News

Driving fitness, not age, could determine when to hand over the keys

Warning signs include 'general nervousness,' close calls

A Smart Driver class designed for older adults is scheduled at Avenidas senior center in Palo Alto on Dec. 10, 2022. Courtesy Getty Images.

When's the right time for an older adult to stop driving?

"It's not age per se that matters — it's how well you can handle driving," says Marvin Kohn, California coordinator for the AARP's extensive driver-safety program designed for older adults.

Vision, hearing and reaction time often decline with age. Because of this, instructors in AARP's "Smart Driver" class spend a fair amount of time on the question: When should you stop driving?, said Barry Haskell, a longtime instructor who's scheduled to teach an eight-hour Smart Driver class at Avenidas senior center in Palo Alto on Dec. 10.

One sign it might be time to stop — or restrict driving to daylight hours and non-freeway routes — is "general nervousness, or if you notice yourself being somewhat anxious about your driving," Haskell said. "Then there are the close calls. Close calls happen — we all have them — but if you see you're having them every month, that's another issue."

Other warning signs include driving too fast or too slow for road conditions, delayed response to unexpected situations, becoming easily distracted or having difficulty moving into or maintaining the correct lane of traffic, said AARP Vice President John Dunning, who directs the nationwide Driver Safety program for the organization. Across the U.S., AARP deploys about 3,500 volunteer instructors, like Haskell, to deliver a safety course designed for older drivers.

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Drivers 70 and older have higher fatal crash rates per mile traveled than middle-aged drivers, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "But the crash rates per person are similar to other-age drivers because seniors generally drive less," Haskell said.

In a nationwide study of serious crashes, the most frequent error made by drivers 70 and older was "inadequate surveillance, which included looking but not seeing, and failing to look," the Insurance Institute said. Older drivers "were more likely than drivers ages 35-54 to make inadequate surveillance errors or to misjudge the length of a gap between vehicles or another vehicle's speed."

AARP's Smart Driver course is targeted at drivers in their 60s and 70s, though participants have ranged in age from 16 to 100, Dunning said. The class covers basic driving skills, how to reduce distractions, adjust driving to age-related physical changes and more.

California law requires insurance companies to offer a discount to drivers 55 and older who can show they've passed the class. By a show of hands in his classes, Haskell said at least two-thirds of participants indicate they're there to get the discount.

Regardless of why they enrolled, 9 out of 10 participants report that taking the class has encouraged them to change at least one driving habit, Dunning said. Frequently mentioned changes include maintaining better following distance or taking alternate routes to avoid risky left turns across traffic, he said.

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Offered since 1979, the Smart Driver curriculum has been updated eight times, most recently this year. New topics include marijuana and DUIs and technology in cars. The technology section covers collision avoidance systems, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist.

"We don't want drivers to be confused or annoyed by technology that's supposed to protect them," Dunning said. "We have to learn how to use it as it's designed. We encourage drivers to understand the vehicle and, if not, to hold the dealer accountable for explaining how it works."

License-renewal requirements for older drivers vary by state. In California, drivers 70 and up must renew in person every five years, with proof of adequate vision required each time.

Palo Alto Police Sgt. David Lee said anyone who feels that a driver — of any age — is not fit for the road can submit a "Request for Driver Re-examination" to the Department of Motor Vehicles by filling out the agency's DS Form 699.

If submitters request that their name not be revealed to the individual being reported, "confidentiality will be honored to the fullest extent possible," the DMV says on the form.

Determining when to stop driving is "a very touchy issue, as you might imagine," Haskell said. "But there's no hard and fast rule."

Driver-safety classes for older adults

Smart Driver

Offered by AARP

Eight-hour course targeting drivers ages 60 and older. The class covers basic driving skills and how to adjust driving to age-related physical changes. After completion, drivers may be eligible for a discount on their auto insurance.

Upcoming classes: Saturday, Dec. 10, at Avenidas, 450 Bryant St., Palo Alto

For more information, go to aarp.org/auto/driver-safety

RoadWise Driver

Offered by AAA

Online course focused on senior driver improvement. After completion, drivers may be eligible for a discount on their auto insurance.

For more information, go to aaadriverprogram.com

Age Well, Drive Smart

Offered by the California Highway Patrol

Free, three-hour presentation focused on safe driving practices and current California driving laws.

Upcoming classes: 9:30 a.m., Wednesday, Jan. 25; 1 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 9, at Avenidas, 450 Bryant St., Palo Alto

To register, email [email protected]

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Contributing writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at [email protected]

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Driving fitness, not age, could determine when to hand over the keys

Warning signs include 'general nervousness,' close calls

by / Contributor

Uploaded: Fri, Dec 2, 2022, 6:53 am
Updated: Mon, Dec 5, 2022, 8:38 am

When's the right time for an older adult to stop driving?

"It's not age per se that matters — it's how well you can handle driving," says Marvin Kohn, California coordinator for the AARP's extensive driver-safety program designed for older adults.

Vision, hearing and reaction time often decline with age. Because of this, instructors in AARP's "Smart Driver" class spend a fair amount of time on the question: When should you stop driving?, said Barry Haskell, a longtime instructor who's scheduled to teach an eight-hour Smart Driver class at Avenidas senior center in Palo Alto on Dec. 10.

One sign it might be time to stop — or restrict driving to daylight hours and non-freeway routes — is "general nervousness, or if you notice yourself being somewhat anxious about your driving," Haskell said. "Then there are the close calls. Close calls happen — we all have them — but if you see you're having them every month, that's another issue."

Other warning signs include driving too fast or too slow for road conditions, delayed response to unexpected situations, becoming easily distracted or having difficulty moving into or maintaining the correct lane of traffic, said AARP Vice President John Dunning, who directs the nationwide Driver Safety program for the organization. Across the U.S., AARP deploys about 3,500 volunteer instructors, like Haskell, to deliver a safety course designed for older drivers.

Drivers 70 and older have higher fatal crash rates per mile traveled than middle-aged drivers, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "But the crash rates per person are similar to other-age drivers because seniors generally drive less," Haskell said.

In a nationwide study of serious crashes, the most frequent error made by drivers 70 and older was "inadequate surveillance, which included looking but not seeing, and failing to look," the Insurance Institute said. Older drivers "were more likely than drivers ages 35-54 to make inadequate surveillance errors or to misjudge the length of a gap between vehicles or another vehicle's speed."

AARP's Smart Driver course is targeted at drivers in their 60s and 70s, though participants have ranged in age from 16 to 100, Dunning said. The class covers basic driving skills, how to reduce distractions, adjust driving to age-related physical changes and more.

California law requires insurance companies to offer a discount to drivers 55 and older who can show they've passed the class. By a show of hands in his classes, Haskell said at least two-thirds of participants indicate they're there to get the discount.

Regardless of why they enrolled, 9 out of 10 participants report that taking the class has encouraged them to change at least one driving habit, Dunning said. Frequently mentioned changes include maintaining better following distance or taking alternate routes to avoid risky left turns across traffic, he said.

Offered since 1979, the Smart Driver curriculum has been updated eight times, most recently this year. New topics include marijuana and DUIs and technology in cars. The technology section covers collision avoidance systems, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist.

"We don't want drivers to be confused or annoyed by technology that's supposed to protect them," Dunning said. "We have to learn how to use it as it's designed. We encourage drivers to understand the vehicle and, if not, to hold the dealer accountable for explaining how it works."

License-renewal requirements for older drivers vary by state. In California, drivers 70 and up must renew in person every five years, with proof of adequate vision required each time.

Palo Alto Police Sgt. David Lee said anyone who feels that a driver — of any age — is not fit for the road can submit a "Request for Driver Re-examination" to the Department of Motor Vehicles by filling out the agency's DS Form 699.

If submitters request that their name not be revealed to the individual being reported, "confidentiality will be honored to the fullest extent possible," the DMV says on the form.

Determining when to stop driving is "a very touchy issue, as you might imagine," Haskell said. "But there's no hard and fast rule."

Driver-safety classes for older adults

Smart Driver

Offered by AARP

Eight-hour course targeting drivers ages 60 and older. The class covers basic driving skills and how to adjust driving to age-related physical changes. After completion, drivers may be eligible for a discount on their auto insurance.

Upcoming classes: Saturday, Dec. 10, at Avenidas, 450 Bryant St., Palo Alto

For more information, go to aarp.org/auto/driver-safety

RoadWise Driver

Offered by AAA

Online course focused on senior driver improvement. After completion, drivers may be eligible for a discount on their auto insurance.

For more information, go to aaadriverprogram.com

Age Well, Drive Smart

Offered by the California Highway Patrol

Free, three-hour presentation focused on safe driving practices and current California driving laws.

Upcoming classes: 9:30 a.m., Wednesday, Jan. 25; 1 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 9, at Avenidas, 450 Bryant St., Palo Alto

To register, email [email protected]

Contributing writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at [email protected]

Comments

Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Dec 5, 2022 at 10:44 am
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Dec 5, 2022 at 10:44 am

Good idea to have a driving test. My siblings and I got lucky when our mother, who was deaf, dropped her keys on the kitchen counter one day and declared she was no longer driving. She was 95 at the time. We sold her car immediately just in case she changed her mind. Not being able to hear sirens and horns and other sounds is a good reason to not get behind the wheel, especially if in an age group for which delayed reaction time is normal.


Hulkamania
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 5, 2022 at 11:22 am
Hulkamania, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Dec 5, 2022 at 11:22 am

A friend's father was at the point of being dangerous on the road. We went over late one night, jacked up the rear end of the car, and put blocks under it that held the tires about a half inch off of the ground.

The father would go out, fire up the car, try to go somewhere, get mad, call his son to come over and fix it. This went on for a week. He finally gave up and had the car towed away.


MyFeelz
Registered user
JLS Middle School
on Dec 5, 2022 at 3:18 pm
MyFeelz, JLS Middle School
Registered user
on Dec 5, 2022 at 3:18 pm

@Hulkamania my cousin had a similar situation. So one night, cousin arranged for someone to "steal" it when his dad's car was parked outside. Uncle had Alzheimer's, so was easy to "fool". Told him a police report had been made and insurance claim filed. What really happened was cousin gave it to a friend who takes clunkers and restores them for donation to worthy causes. Uncle never even thought about it, and the car was put to good use.

Of course if anybody tries to take my driving privileges away I will stab their eyes out with my keys.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 5, 2022 at 6:20 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Dec 5, 2022 at 6:20 pm

A friend from Los Altos Hills walked across Foothills to do some pre-Thanksgiving food shopping and in broad daylight was hit in the crosswalk by a 97-yr-old driver who missed that her body was splayed across his windshield and kept driving even after she slipped in front of his car. After 10 DAYS in the Stanford Trauma unit dealing with injuries that go on for 2 paragraphs, she's finally been sent home and will face months and months of more surgeries, rehab, help from friends and family...

In her case, the Los Altos police showed up in her hospital room with the driver's insurance information.


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