Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

50+: Live Better, Longer

Font Size
A
A
A

Older Drivers: The Car Key Decision

As the number of older drivers increases as the population ages, the question arises more often: When should the car keys be taken away to ensure the safety of older drivers -- and others on the road?

WebMD Feature

When a police cruiser drove up to the Casa del Rio retirement community in Peoria, Ariz., assistant manager Debra Gauthier wasn't a bit surprised to see Mr. C, as she calls him, sitting in the back seat. The 93-year-old resident was being brought home by the authorities because he had parked his car in Phoenix and lost it. And it wasn't the first time he'd had a memory lapse on the road.

Fearful that Mr. C would crash while driving the next time, Gauthier and her co-workers made a plan. When the police returned his blue Ford Taurus, a Casa del Rio staff member parked it far from Mr. C's normal space, disconnected the battery, and held on to his keys.

Recommended Related to Healthy Seniors

Over 40, Fit, and Ready to Bare Arms

Madonna and Michelle Obama seem to have little in common. But together, they have awakened American women of a certain age to the allure of tight, toned arms. They've sent the message that those arms and toned, taut bodies may be within reach for other 40-somethings and older. That message has been helped along by a legion of other celebrities who have passed their 40th birthday, yet remain virtually flab-free. The list includes Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Barkin, and Mary Tyler Moore. But leading...

Read the Over 40, Fit, and Ready to Bare Arms article > >

"But he found it," Gauthier says. "He had it fixed and started driving again with an extra set of keys." He didn't even remember that he had lost the car. When she told Mr. C he shouldn't be driving, he became furious.

The to-drive or not-to-drive question will loom for more and more American families. In 2000, 1 in 10 drivers was over 70 -- a 36% increase from 1990, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety administration.

While some older drivers remain competent, others do not. In 2001, people 65 and older made up 16% of the driving age population and accounted for 16% of fatal vehicle crashes, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. By 2030, elderly people will make up 25% of all drivers and be involved in 25% of fatal accidents, the institute says.

The Legal Approach

Deciding which older drivers are safe on the road and which are dangerous is no small task. The best way to keep drivers like Mr. C off the road, some say, are stringent state laws that require more frequent testing of all older drivers, regardless of their driving records. But others see that approach as "ageist."

Nonetheless, 13 states require older drivers to renew their licenses more frequently than younger drivers, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In Illinois, for instance, once drivers reach age 75 they must take a road test every time they renew their license. They must renew every two years starting at age 81 and every year after age 87.

Other states with special provisions for older drivers include Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, and Rhode Island.

The Fix-It Approach

Others suggest a more humanistic approach: helping older drivers stay on the road whenever possible by correcting physical problems. For instance, obstacles that once seemed incompatible with driving, such as cataracts and slow reaction times, now may be overcome.

Older drivers with a cataract, an opaque clouding of the eye's lens, are more than twice as likely to have been in a crash in recent years than those without them.

1 | 2 | 3

Today on WebMD

Senior man doing press ups in gym
Slideshow
reflection of couple kissing
Quiz
 
man reviewing building plans
Quiz
Women working out and walking with weights
Community
 
fast healthy snack ideas
Article
how healthy is your mouth
Tool
 
dog on couch
Tool
doctor holding syringe
Slideshow
 
champagne toast
Slideshow
Youth listening to headphones
Slideshow
 
Man feeding woman
Slideshow
two senior women laughing
Article