Skip to content

50+: Live Better, Longer

Trading the Car Keys for a Bus Pass

Older Drivers
Font Size
A
A
A

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

The light turns red and traffic stops. A mother eases her baby's stroller off the curb and starts across. Without warning, a stopped car roars to life and leaps into the intersection, missing her infant by a hair.

The shaken mother confronts the driver, a woman in her 80s, who is crying and in shock. The elderly woman had glanced at the green light signaling the cross traffic and processed it as a green light in her direction. Fortunately, this incident did not shatter the lives of mother and baby -- but it might have acted as a wakeup call for that driver. Time to consider hanging up the car keys.

Recommended Related to Healthy Seniors

The Art of Aging Gracefully

In Nora Ephron's best-selling book, I Feel Bad About My Neck, she laments the sorry state of her 60-something neck: "Our faces are lies and our necks are the truth. You have to cut open a redwood tree to see how old it is, but you wouldn't have to if it had a neck," she writes. "Every so often I read a book about age, and whoever's writing it says it's great to be old. It's great to be wise and sage and mellow; it's great to be at the point where you understand just what matters in life. I...

Read the The Art of Aging Gracefully article > >

Obviously, there are poor drivers in all age groups. Drivers 55 and over actually are less likely to be involved in crashes, according to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis, and are also less likely to be driving drunk. But, as the years roll by, the 70-and-up group is second only to the 16-20 set in traffic deaths.

Contrary to popular opinion, cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer's, and declining eyesight are less to blame than diseases such diabetes, Parkinson's, and heart disease. Physical stiffness from arthritis or osteoporosis can impair the ability to work the pedals. Older people also take a lot of medications, some of which can impair driving. All of this is significant because states that have passed or are considering retesting or relicensing based on age usually target vision, which can be the least of the problem.

David B. Carr, MD, a geriatrician and associate professor of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, says "drive or not to drive" decisions might more cost-effectively be made on a case-by-case basis. Even people with early stages of Alzheimer's, whose orientation and other faculties beside memory are not affected, can drive safely. "We have to decide if screening is worth it. Even if you take away a person's license, they may continue to drive without it." (In one case, a man who kept hitting a tree next to his driveway refused to surrender his license and instead chopped down the tree.)

1 | 2 | 3

Today on WebMD

blueberries
Eating for a longer, healthier life.
woman biking
How to stay vital in your 50s and beyond.
 
womans finger tied with string
Learn how we remember, and why we forget.
man reviewing building plans
Do you know how to stay healthy as you age?
 
fast healthy snack ideas
Article
how healthy is your mouth
Tool
 
dog on couch
Tool
doctor holding syringe
Slideshow
 
champagne toast
Slideshow
Two women wearing white leotards back to back
Quiz
 
Man feeding woman
Slideshow
two senior women laughing
Article