The Aging Driver

        For many, driving is a source of independence and self esteem. The car is the only transportation for most of us. It allows us to operate on our own schedules, get to the doctor’s office, get groceries, pick up the grand kids from school, and participate in all types of recreational activities. To maintain your standard of driving, however, you need to be aware of how physical changes associated with aging can ultimately affect your ability to drive.

          Often, as we age, our eyesight and reactions change. Does driving make you feel nervous, scared, or overwhelmed? Do you feel confused by traffic signs, cars in traffic? Do you take medication that makes you drowsy? Do you get dizzy, have seizures, or losses of consciousness? Do you react slowly to normal driving situations? If you said yes to any of the above questions, then these are some warning signs of unsafe driving.

          No one wants to stop driving and give up control over the things they do in their life. However, a time may come when it may not be safe for you to drive. This is an issue that you and your family must confront. Discussing this with your family will allow your family members to appreciate that driving is very important to you. Also, it is extremely important that you talk to your physician about your driving ability. Your physician is one of the most, if not the most, influential person that you can talk to about your decision to stop driving.

         In the State of Maryland, an individual may not drive or attempt to drive an automobile on any State highway without a driver’s license. The State of Maryland does not have an age-based suspension or revocation of a driving license. However, a vision test is required for renewal of your license.

          The Motor Vehicle Administration (“MVA”) may refer a driver to the Medical Advisory Board (“Board”), for an advisory opinion. This is done if the MVA has good cause to believe that the driving of a vehicle would be contrary to the public safety and welfare because of a known existing or suspected mental or physical disability. The Board is an advisory panel consisting of physicians and optometrists. The MVA, based on the Board’s advisory opinion, may suspend, revoke, refuse to issue or renew the license if the licensee is unfit, unsafe, habitually reckless or negligent.

          Once the MVA receives a referral, the driver in question is notified that they must appear for an examination. Failure to do so may lead to automatic suspension of your license. At the review examination, the medical advisory board may perform tests.

          Remember, driving is a privilege in the State of Maryland. The State can and will suspend or revoke your license if you are unfit to drive. Additionally, police officers have the right to stop your car if they have probable cause because they suspect you of reckless or negligent driving. You may then have to appear in Court or in a MVA hearing regarding your driving ability.

          To maintain your high standard of driving, you need to be aware of how your body changes as you age. Changes to vision, peripheral vision, depth perception, night vision, clarity of vision, reaction times, medications and mobility can interfere with your driving performance. These changes can lead to inappropriate driving speeds, failing to observe and follow signals, poor judgment of distances and speeds of other areas, frustration; confusion; getting lost in familiar areas, weaving in and out of traffic lanes, and near misses or accidents. Therefore, you may benefit from a driver refresher course before functional decline presents problems. Mature driver courses are offered by a variety of organizations i.e., AARP Driver Safety program. This refresher course may even lead to a discount in your insurance.

          When you do have to drive, remember these safe driving tips:

  • Try to avoid left turns. If possible, make several right turns to get where you want.
  • Always slow down and signal, in advance of your turn.
  • Allow plenty of time and room to make your turn.
  • Keep a safe distance between you and the car ahead.
  • Sit high in your seat.
  • Avoid driving at dawn, dusk, rush hour and at night.
  • Always wear your current prescription glasses.

          At some point you may need to stop driving for your safety and the safety of others on the road. You may come to this decision yourself, or by the recommendation of the doctor, or MVA. When you or someone close to you retires from driving, there are several things you can do to make it easier for you and your family.

          Create a transportation plan:

  • Come up with a list of names and telephone numbers – who are willing to give rides.
  • Have handy the phone numbers of taxi cabs / shuttle bus services.
  • Contact the Department of Aging
  • Encourage social activities.
  • Be there for your loved one.
  • Arrange to have groceries and/or delivered.
  • Order medications by mail.
  • Shop by catalogs.

Should you have to give up your car, look on the bright side of things. You will no longer have to pay the cost of fuel, car maintenance, insurance, car payments, etc. which may result in savings to you.

Driving issues are complex, especially with the dependence of the car in our society today and limited public transportation in may areas or communities. However, failure to act responsibly may force the State of Maryland to act on your behalf.

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