Taking the Keys from Senior Drivers
None of us is as young as we used to be. Time flies and before you know it, teenagers have become adults and adults have reached senior status. For many older drivers, there comes a point when their driving skills come into question. As we age, there are a multitude of medical conditions that can diminish one’s ability to safely operate a car or truck.
The car accident team at Joseph Joy and Associates in Lafayette has litigated multitudes of personal injury cases that were due to poor decisions made by drivers whose skills and response time were waning, whether due to age or medical challenges. Although driving can become second nature, operating a vehicle is a complex act that requires a driver’s undivided effort. According to AAA, The average driver makes about 20 major decisions during each mile driven – and often has less than one-half second to react to avoid a potential collision. Aging can slow one’s reaction time. So can a long list of chronic medical conditions.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration published a report entitled, “Medical Conditions and Driving: A Review of the Scientific Literature (1960 – 2000),” which listed several conditions that can serve as ‘Red Flags’ that a person’s driving ability may be compromised. The list is exhaustive and includes conditions that affect a driver’s vision, Cardiovascular, Cerebrovascular, Respiratory, Metabolic and Psychiatric systems plus Dementia. It also lists medications that can impair one’s ability to safely operate a vehicle.
I think we can all agree that above all, drivers need to have adequate vision to navigate the road during the day and night. Louisiana law requires drivers pass a vision test upon licensure:
Visual Conditions – “Your eyes will be screened when you apply for or renew your driver’s license or learner’s permit. The vision screening is not a medical exam. Because seeing well is so critical to safe driving, you should have your eyes checked regularly. The screening will determine if your vision meets minimum standards (20/40) for safe driving. If you fail the eye exam, you will be given a vision report which is to be completed by a vision specialist of your choice. If you need corrective lenses in order to pass the vision exam, your license will indicate that you are required to wear them while driving. Your license will display an “01” for this restriction. This restriction removed after having laser surgery to correct your vision. You must visit an OMV office and pass the vision screening without wearing glasses or contact lenses.” Louisiana Class D & E Driver’s Guide, p.13
Attuned to the possibility that older drivers should be physically reviewed before renewing their driver’s licenses, Louisiana requires that drivers seventy years of age and older renew their licenses in person rather than online or by mail, at which time an eye exam is performed.
Every person, sixty years of age or above… shall attach to his application a detailed report from a duly licensed physician or optometrist indicating his visual ability and a detailed medical report from a duly licensed physician indicating his physical condition and specifying any defects in connection therewith which might impair the applicant’s ability to exercise ordinary and reasonable control in the operation of a motor vehicle. The provisions of this Section shall not apply to persons applying for a renewal license except for those persons subject to R.S. 32:403.4. However, it shall not be a breach of duty to the public or the individual if the department inadvertently fails to require a report from such applicant or if the department issues a license under the mistaken belief that such applicant is capable of driving safely. LA Rev Stat § 32:403.1 (2019) Application of persons sixty years of age or above
No one likes to lose their independence, including their driving privileges. Discussing the state of one’s driving skills is never easy. For the sake of the senior and other motorists, passengers and pedestrians, if a question arises as to one’s driving abilities, it must be addressed. It is a sensitive topic and it is addressed in the Louisiana driver’s manual as follows:
“If you become aware of a health issue in a family member or yourself you should not hesitate to talk with someone. Having any of these conditions does not necessarily mean that you will be unable to continue driving. But you may need to visit your doctor more often. You may also need to restrict driving to daylight driving only, wearing corrective lenses when driving, or only driving on familiar streets and roads. Everyone has a responsibility to be certain they are fit to drive. At the time of any driver’s license issuance you are asked three questions pertaining to your mental and physical health. You should honestly disclose any information that may affect your driving.” P. 58 Louisiana Driving Manual
Answering the following questions from NHTSA may help you decide if you need to initiate a conversation with an older driver about their fitness behind the wheel:
- Do they get lost on routes that should be familiar?
- Have you noticed new dents, scratches, or other damage to the vehicle they drive?
- Have them been ticketed for a driving violation? Had near miss or crash recently?
- Has their doctor advised the senior to limit or stop driving due to a health reason?
- Do they seemed overwhelmed or anxious while driving?
- Do they take any medication that might affect their ability to drive?
- Do they drive too slowly, preventing the safe flow of traffic?
- Do they suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, glaucoma, cataracts, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, or other illnesses that may affect driving skills?
If you answered yes to any of the above, consider talking to the driver’s physician for advice. The driver may follow the physician’s advice. In any case, be ready to have transportation alternatives in mind.
If you or a loved one suffers a personal injury due to the negligence of another driver, call the car accident litigation team at Joseph Joy and Associates for a free consultation at (337) 232-8123.