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How Old is Too Old to Drive?

When's the right time to turn in the keys?

At 93 years old Rachel Veitch is retiring her 1964 Mercury Comet Caliente after more than 576,000 miles on the road.

The car itself is fine, but Veitch has macular degeneration in both eyes.

"I am legally blind, so I can no longer drive my lovely Chariot," Veitch told FoxNews.com. "They don't have to take it away, I would not dream of driving that car again." 

After running a red light in March, she decided to voluntarily give up the vehicle she's been driving since Lyndon Johnson occupied the White House.

But turning in the keys is not an easy choice for many senior drivers.

Cupertino resident, 73-year-old retired registered nurse Mary Lou Robson is confident that she will "continue driving until it is no longer safe."

"I've been driving since I was 16," she says, "and I will know when it's time to quit. My mother drove into her 80s until her vision problems made it unsafe for her to continue. I believe that most seniors know when it's time to stop driving."

The California Department of Motor Vehicles states that the most common physical restriction on an individual's driver license is related to vision. Vision declines due to physiologic changes of the eye along with an increased occurrence of certain vision diseases, like Veitch's macular degeneration, as a person ages. 

Robson notes that her mother also had macular degeneration and was restricted to driving within a five-mile radius of her home.

"I don't think she could see any better close to home, but she was more familiar with her surroundings," Robson says.

The DMV adds that cognitive skills also affect a senior's ability to drive: memory, visual processing, attention, and the ability to analyze driving-related situations to make appropriate decisions. 

Medical conditions and medications common to seniors also may have an impact on cognitive abilities.

Rather than taking away a senior's driving privilege, the DMV may place a restriction or condition on the driver license when it is necessary to ensure the person is driving within his/her ability. Restrictions and conditions vary and may include:

  • Requiring the person to place special mechanical devices on his/her vehicle,
  • Limiting when and where a person may drive, or
  • Requiring eye glasses, corrective contact lenses, or other physical devices such as leg or arm prosthetics.

Restrictions may be discretionary (imposed by the department) or mandatory (required by law). 

(Vehicle Code §§ 12812, 12813 and 13800)

By way of age comparison, how do senior drivers compare to the youngest drivers?

The DMV notes that the greatest risk of traffic crashes is among teenage drivers. Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers across the United States. For both men and women, drivers aged 16 to 19 years of age have the highest average annual crash and traffic violation rates of any other age group. 

Clearly a strong person herself, Veitch is fond of noting that the car has outlasted three marriages. Mechanically, her "Chariot" has worn through three sets of shocks, 18 batteries and eight mufflers, according to Eric Pfeiffer of The Sideshow.

So, what do you think? How old is too old to drive?

Gary Frimann April 10, 2012 at 07:34 PM
Well written article.
Matt Gurwell April 11, 2012 at 12:23 AM
Great article! May I add that Keeping Us Safe now has Certified "Beyond Driving with Dignity" Professionals trained and deployed throughout the country. If you are concerned about an elderly loved one's safe driving ability, please contact us at 877-907-8841 and we will connect you with the closest "Beyond Driving with Dignity" Professional. We also offer a workbook titled "Beyond Driving with Dignity; The workbook for the families of older drivers". Visit our website at www.keepingussafe.org to learn more about our programs and about how to become a Certified “Beyond Driving with Dignity” Professional.
Elena H April 11, 2012 at 04:34 AM
I believe that statistics show that although there may be errors in judgement, these errors can occur at 18, 26, 42, and 83.... and I also believe that the statistics show that we can just our population to take advantage of all we have to offer.... CSAA, AARP, health care groups, and numerous websites (thank you Mr. Gurwell!) geared toward drivers ed online all have facilities for people to take advantage of to assist them in the decision to drive, not drive, and to continually learn to drive better. In Cupertino, our Senior Center, as many others do also, offers classes to aid seniors in making the determination of competency behind the wheel. I believe it would be unjust to set an across-the-board age limit.

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