When is it time for aging drivers to put the keys away due to declining vision and reaction time? That’s the subject of yesterday’s great Oregonian story probing the effects of new laws on Oregon’s aging driver population. A number of states have implemented laws to determine when drivers have lost the skills important for road safety. Oregon requires that drivers over 50 take a vision test to renew their license. California requires in-person license renewal after the age of 70. It’s always a difficult discussion, since taking away the keys can mean the loss of important freedoms.
One woman profiled by the Oregonian, 82-year-old Nellie Hobson, has cut down on her driving time after being diagnosed with a progressive anemia that leaves her legs without feelings. “I just drive in town where I’m familiar with everything,” she says. “I will not drive to the coast. I don’t feel that’s secure anymore.” Hobson, who has installed a hand break in her car, also understands that she will not be able to drive forever. “When the time comes, it comes, and you realize it…and you give up,” she says.
Aging driver safety is a hot topic in Oregon because the state has seen a number of serious accidents related to older drivers in the past months. Last week, for example, an 82-year-old woman was killed in a three-car accident, and in 2007, an 80-year-old was reported missing until her car was found four months later submerged in the Willamette River. For people over 65, vehicle accidents are the number one cause of injury-related deaths nationwide. Later this month, the National Transportation Safety Board will host a forum on the dangers of driving over a certain age and the technology available to improve safety.
“I don’t think we’re as prepared as we should be to handle the whole variety of traffic safety matters with association to the aging driver population,” says Peter Kissinger of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Citing the importance of focusing on impairment rather than age, DMV spokesman David House said “there’s no law that says you have this disease you can’t drive, or you’re at this age, you can’t drive.”
If you’re concerned that you or a loved one may be getting too old or too impaired to continue driving, you have a number of options. Refer to GJEL’s safety resource for aging drivers for advice on how to start the conversation, and alternatives to driving that can help aging drivers maintain their freedom and stay safe.
Photo credits: EmploymentCrossing