Warning signs, training and laws for aging, elderly drivers

Posted at 5:56 PM, Jul 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-25 20:28:44-04

CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- After an 81-year-old driver struck and killed a 14-year-old boy in Denver earlier this month, many questions surfaced about an increasing issue in the Denver community: aging drivers.

The crash was characteristic of what leading health, safety and driving professionals see as a troubling and escalating problem with elderly drivers who continue to get behind the wheel, despite diminished hand-eye coordination and reaction time. 

According to a recent study by AAA and Carnegie Mellon University, drivers 85-years-old and older are four times more likely than teenage drivers to cause fatal accidents.

The elderly woman who struck and killed the teenage boy in Denver, died herself this past weekend. Patricia Livingston, 81, had been hospitalized since the crash.

In Colorado, there’s no upper age limit to stop driving.

According to the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles, Colorado state rules for aging drivers are explained like this:

  • Requires drivers age 61 and older to renew their licenses every five years
  • Prohibits drivers age 66 and older from renewing online
  • Requires vision tests for drivers ages 66 and older
  • Accepts written reports about potentially unsafe drivers from law enforcement, courts, physicians and close relatives.

Ron Langford is the owner of the driving school Master Drive in Centennial. He says sometimes age is not always the question.

“You can have a 90-year-old person who is a better, more aware driver than a 65-year-old,” Langford said. “It really has to do with the function of the person."

He says there are two primary areas of driving function.

“One has to do with visual-spatial awareness, visual tracking. Being able to keep track of what’s in your environment. The second is psychomotor-response. That is what we would typically call reaction time.”

According to AAA, 86 percent of those 65 and older still drive.

Those numbers are somewhat concerning at a time when the U.S. Census Bureau projects, because of the aging baby boomer population, there will be 9.6 million people 85 and older by the year 2030.

There are some signs you can look for with regard to an aging family members ability to keep driving. The AARP suggests it might be time to hang up time to hang up the keys, if you notice some of these warning signs:

  • Almost crashing, with frequent “close calls”
  • You find multiple dents and scrapes on the car, fence, garage doors, etc.
  • Your loved one gets lost frequently, even in very familiar locations
  • Confusing the gas pedal and brake pedal
  • Experiencing road rage or getting honked at frequently
  • Limited range of motion in neck and difficulty turning head
  • Receiving multiple traffic tickets or “warnings”

Only two states — Illinois and New Hampshire — require elderly drivers to pass road tests, according to AAA.

While many states struggle with enacting new driving laws for seniors, the AARP supports self-regulation.

It promotes the practice of only allow aging family members to drive to familiar places and at certain times of the day.