Elders Driving – Fears, Issues, Laws and Other Transportation Options

In this episode, John Ross and Lisa Shoalmire discuss several of the issues, fears, concerns and alternatives loved ones may experience as our seniors continue driving while aging.

Episode Transcript
John
Welcome to another episode of Aging Insight. I'm your host, John Ross, and I'm here with Lisa Shoalmire, my partner and co-host. And Aging Insight is here to bring you information about aging, preparing for aging, living on your own terms, basically, just being prepared for what's to come, so that you can avoid nursing home care, that you can avoid becoming a burden on others, and that you can preserve and protect those valuable resources that you've spent your whole life accumulating. And we try to cover lots of different topics on this show because as elder law attorneys, we see lots of different situations. People come into our office, day in and day out, facing the realities of aging, and some of these situations are pretty tough, pretty touchy. Some of them are... You have to tiptoe through the mine field, so-to-speak, because when you start dealing with liberties, things that the rest of us may take for granted, when a person gets older and they're not being able to do the things that they used to, they can get pretty defensive about losing some of what they feel like are their personal rights. And I will say, Lisa, probably the biggest one is driving.
Lisa
That's right. You know, John, we live in the United States of America and we don't... In our area, we don't have well-developed public transportation. You gotta get in your car and you got to drive in order to get to the grocery store, to the bank, to the doctor's offices, to see a friend, to go to lunch. We don't have what folks in the big cities call a walking community. Driving is a big part of our lives. From the time we're 15, 16 years old, that is the symbol of your independence; that car in the driveway and those keys in your hand. So that becomes a very difficult topic when it becomes apparent that maybe a senior family member or your spouse, perhaps, you realize that their driving abilities aren't as good as they used to be, and maybe there's some safety concerns. It becomes a very touchy issue.
John
Right. And maybe it's even yourself. Maybe you're just thinking about yourself, you're thinking, "You know, my response time is just not what it used to be," and you're worried about getting behind that wheel because the accident rates, that car speeding down the road is a... That's a big machine, and it can cause a lot of damage. And so, when you start looking at things like accident rates, the... Statistically speaking, the best drivers out there are people between about 35 and 65. These are the people with the lowest rates of accidents. They've gotten past those teenage years and they've gotten better, but it's kinda like a curve. And you start out where accidents are pretty high, but as you get older, your rate of accidents get lower and lower. But then as you get older, that rate starts going back up again.
Lisa
Well, John, the other thing about those accident rates is that the accident rates do tend to start going back up at 70, 75. And also, the other big issue is fatalities. If you are in an accident at an older age, 75 and above, a fatality is more likely, and part of that is our older bodies just can't deal and take the trauma of an accident maybe the way they could when they were younger. So it's an independence issue, but it's also a health issue should you get into that accident.
John
Right. Now, the first thing I think to make clear is that there is no age, there is no age where a person either should not drive or should drive. It's not about your age. It's about who you are, it's about your physical health, it's about your mental health. And there can be people at 90 who are perfectly good drivers, and people who are 55, who are not.
Lisa
That's right. And so in our area, in both Texas and Arkansas, there is no law that says, when you turn 90, that you can't drive anymore. There's no law that says that.
John
Right. But looking at some of these statistics, a person who is age 85 has the exact same accident rate, or exact same likelihood of being in an accident as a 16-year-old driver. So an 85-year-old and a 16-year-old have the exact same rate of accidents with one big difference: When that 16-year-old gets into a car wreck, they're likely to kill somebody else. When that 85-year-old gets into a car wreck, they're gonna kill themselves. And so, whether you're worried about other people on the road or frankly, whether you're just worried about yourself, knowing when to stop driving, or when to get that loved one to stop driving, how to do that can mean all the difference in the world.
Lisa
Yeah. So we're gonna take a break, and we're gonna come back, and we're gonna talk about some circumstances where taking the keys away or suggesting that driving isn't the best thing really kind of went wrong, so stay with us.
Lisa
Welcome back, everyone, to Aging Insight. I'm Lisa Shoalmire and I am here with John Ross, and today we are talking about a topic that I know is very close to all of our viewers out there, and that is driving. We talked about in the first segment, that older drivers have similar accident rates to teenagers, and we also talked about how there's no set age under the law that you are required to stop driving, or that someone else can require you to stop driving. But there are some laws that kind of look at your abilities as a driver as you get older. For instance, in the state of Texas, your driver's license renews for six years at a time until age 85, and after 85, you can only get a driver's license for two years at a time. The other thing that Texas has done is once you reach age 79, you must physically go to the DPS office to have your driver's license renewed. You cannot do it by mail or through the computer at age 79 or above. And when you walk in that DPS office, be prepared 'cause they're gonna do a vision test, and they may also ask you to take a written test, just like you're a 16-year-old, about the laws and the rules of the road. And so a lot of older folks don't realize that, but you do have to physically show up at the office, and if you look feeble or if you look like you may have some issues, they have the option to have you do a test drive, to have you take a test, and they're always gonna check your vision.
John
That's right. And of course there is even a further step in both Texas and Arkansas, and whether that person at the driver's license office recognizes that there might be a physical or mental issue, or if a family member, a police officer, a nurse, or just anybody in the community makes a referral to the driver's license office that says that you might not medically be able to operate a motor vehicle, they can require you to give them medical records. In Texas, for example, they have a board of physicians that will review medical records upon request or if they're referred, and they will look at this medical records to determine whether or not a person medically should have a valid driver's license. And if they... After looking at all of those medical records, if they feel like they do have it, then they can issue that license. But if they feel they don't have the medical ability, they can revoke that license. And so there can even be a medical component. So if you're thinking, "Well, you know what? I can pass the vision test, I can pass the written test," there could even be a physical exam portion of this, if they find reason for that.
Lisa
Alright. And there was recently a story in the news that had to do with and a lady who went to renew her driver's license. She was age 93 and she was down in Texas in Cleburne, and she was refused a renewal of her driver's license. And we don't really have the details as to why she was refused, but it was time for her to renew her license, she physically presented herself and went to the Texas DPS office, and, for whatever reason, her license was denied a renewal. And this lady was very upset about this denial, and she went home, she got out a gun, and then when her nephew attempted to take her car keys because she now no longer had a driver's license, she fired the gun at her nephew, who called the police who arrived on the scene to see an elderly lady waving about a gun, and this lady was shot by a police officer. And this all started with the non-renewal of her driver's license.
John
Yeah. And while... I may not have had experiences in the office quite that severe, I have seen lots and lots of family turmoil surrounding this issue, and so there are some good ways and some bad ways to get that person to stop driving. For example, talking to the doctors, having the doctors talk to that person, there are even driving tests that you can take, not with the Department of Public Safety but through physical therapy departments, like it's your local hospital or a physical therapist's office. For example, at the Saint Michael's rehab facility here in Texarkana, they actually have a car in the building. Inside the building is a car where the physical therapist can watch you get in and get out and operate and use the stuff, and they can then make recommendations as to whether or not you are physically able to operate that vehicle safely. So whether it's you or whether it's a family member, sometimes if you can look at it from a clinical standpoint and say, "Look, this is not me wanting to do it, this is not... I'm not trying to take your keys away, but the doctor says this is what's best," maybe that helps ease the situation.
Lisa
Well, and it all comes down to none of us wanna lose our independence, and we wanna remain as drivers as long as we can. And with that in mind, again, Aging Insight, we're always talking about planning for our aging processes. With that in mind, it's really important that, as best you can, to watch your health, to be able to physically get in and out and operate a vehicle. And two, it's really important to make sure that your eyeglass prescription and those type of things are up to date. And one of the other things is to know your limitations. A lot of seniors voluntarily decide not to drive at night, for instance, and they decide that it's best for them to drive only during the daytime. And that is some choices that you can make in order to maybe avoid that car wreck which could result in a police referral to DPS to revoke your license. So sometimes just a little forethought on your own can help you keep that independence.
John
Right. So there are options out there. And again, like Lisa talked about, looking forward and planning ahead, we're gonna cover a few more of those options, but before we do that, we're gonna take a little break. So stick around with us a little bit longer, and we're gonna talk about some other options for driving a little longer and also how to stop driving in the best way possible. So stick around, we'll be right back.
John
Welcome back to Aging Insight. I'm your host, John Ross. I'm here with Lisa Shoalmire, and today on Aging Insight, we're talking about driving and, of course, not driving. That's the other side to that coin because while driving does offer a lot of independence, it's a dangerous thing out there and at some point, you may get to a point where driving is just not an option. But most people would like to extend that as long as possible, and I do wanna give you some suggestions for how to make that happen. And Lisa talked about a few, and we'll come back to those, but one of the ones that I find to be one of the most surprising is the car itself. Oftentimes, especially as you get older, you don't have a lot of reasons to get behind that wheel. So you may have a car, and that car may be 10 years old, 15 years old, 20 years old, even older than that, and yet it doesn't have a lot of miles on it, it's still basically brand new. And so... And oftentimes, we've found that those cars, when they were originally purchased, they were purchased because maybe there was a lot of family around and you needed a lot of space, you needed a much bigger vehicle. Well a bigger vehicle, especially an older and bigger vehicle, can be harder to drive, and it doesn't have as much technology like some of the new ones.
John
Many of the new cars have a lot of safety features that are just not available in a car that's 10 or 15 or 20 years old, things like warnings that if you are going off of the lane, will tell you if you're leaving the lane; headlights that come on automatically if... Or dim automatically. Headlights that turn as you go around curves, warnings in the car, if you're getting too close to the person in front of you. In fact, there's a federal law out now that all new cars are gonna be required to have back-up cameras so that when you're at the grocery store and you're backing up, craning yourself around to look back over your shoulder can be somewhat difficult, but if you've got a TV screen right there in the car that shows you where you're backing up and shows you that you're not gonna hit anybody... So I found a lot of folks that, really, they could probably extend their driving if they just had a car that was more suitable to their needs, a little smaller, a little more efficient, more technology.
Lisa
Well, I'm guessing, John, that no car dealer has paid you to say anything.
John
No. I'm not getting a commission on that.
Lisa
But that is true because newer cars often have... They have a different headlight technology that's much brighter, that you can see better with it. And those warning signals that you'll get in a car when you get too close on the sides or behind, it's just another way to use our senses. So instead of just using our eyes, we can also use our ears to hear if there's a danger or a warning because frequently, accidents involving seniors are single vehicle accidents or they're accidents where the senior driver struck a pole or a tree or a barricade, didn't even involve another driver. It's just the senior driver lost context of their turn radius or where they were in the lane. So these type of safety features can be really helpful.
John
Yeah. And the other one that Lisa talked about earlier that I think is probably one of the most overlooked is fitness. It's easy to put off that morning workout or heading to the gym, you might even be thinking, "Well, I'm just too old for that." And the idea of going to the gym and getting on a treadmill or lifting weights or things like that, "Oh, that's for young people." Well, that type of exercise, keeping your muscles in shape, keeping your body healthy, that's the single most important thing you can do to extend your ability to drive. So, if for no other reason, if you are one of these folks that likes the independence of driving, you've got to stay in shape. Yeah, of course, there's a million other benefits of staying in shape, but if none of those mean anything to you, hit the gym, so that you can drive that car for a little bit longer. And I really just cannot express the difference that a little bit of personal health will go in making that work.
Lisa
Right, and I talked briefly earlier about maybe restricting yourself, where it's not the state of Texas or the state of Arkansas restricting you, but you've decided that maybe sometimes you should drive and sometimes you shouldn't. I mentioned that some seniors decide to drive only during the daytime. Also, you may decide to avoid interstate driving, or driving during rush hour, and those are some wise things to do if you have anxiety or issues or concerns about driving in those conditions. And the truth of the matter is that the states can actually restrict your license on those same type driving conditions if they... If you're not at a point to renew your license or revoke it or not renew it, but they can be renewed with restrictions.
John
That's right, and as you're thinking about this, of course you're still gonna need to go places. So look at your family dynamics. Do you have family that might, could drive around? You might ask them and say, "Look, I know that a time will come where I can't drive, are you gonna be able to get me to doctor's appointments as needed?" And if that's not an option, what about... There's cab services, there is some public transportation in Texarkana, but then there's a lot of things like car pools, especially among senior groups in some of our local churches, where other members of that senior group volunteer to drive other members of the group as needed. And so look around the community and see what other sources are available for transportation. Even if you don't need it now because, I promise you, it's so much easier to know what you're gonna do when the time comes than it is to try to figure it out in the middle of a crisis.
Lisa
Right, and there's also the RSVP community group here in town that serves seniors that will provide transportation. They have volunteers that provide transportation for seniors to doctor's appointments and needed services, and even as far as Little Rock and Dallas.
John
Right, and same thing with... For the veterans out there. There's the Veterans Van that'll go to the Veterans hospitals and stuff. So there are some options out there, and of course, that's what the program's all about, is learning about these options. And if you wanna hear more options, you can always listen to us on the radio every Saturday at noon on 107.1. You can find us on the internet at aginginsight.com, where you can get on there and ask questions. You can call in the radio and ask questions, you can pick up a copy of the Aging Insight magazine at your local doctor's office or other community center, and of course, you can always just keep watching right here on Aging Insight.
Lisa
Alright. Well, we appreciate you watching us today. We hope that you've gotten something out of today's program, and we look forward to seeing you next week.
John
That's right. So in the meantime, drive safe. We'll see you next time.

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