Making Calgary streets safe: When should seniors quit driving

Race car drivers retire in the 40s because they realize reflexes and reaction times slow down. Seniors should take note.

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Making Calgary streets safe: When should seniors quit driving

Many Calgary seniors still driving today likely got their driver’s license at a time when driving texts weren't yet invented and a $5 bill was all you needed for a permit.   Some may have driven without incident their entire lives and may feel they are still perfectly safe behind the wheel.  Next to selling their home, giving up driving could mean giving up valued independence, and an argument with a loved one could be the only thing standing in the way of family members taking away the keys.

When driving skills decline

It’s not unusual for driving acumen to decline when folks are in their mid-60s, and according to statistics, Canadian drivers aged 70 plus are second only to teenage boys as likely to have a collision. They are careful, polite, less inclined to exhibit road rage so crashes are usually as a result of something they have no control over.  And because our seniors are more fragile, they are less likely to recover from an injury.

Many provinces regulate testing for drivers over the age of 80 but there are many indications that a senior’s license should be revoked even before that age.

  1.  Scrapes and dents:  No one at any age is immune to a few scrapes and dings, but when a senior has no memory or idea how damage to a vehicle was done, especially if there are many occurrences, it could be a warning sign.
  2. Failure to check mirrors:  There’s no doubt that we have decreased mobility as we age but if this impairment prevents seniors from looking over their left shoulder as they change lanes or turning around to have a full view of the rear of the vehicle when backing up, there could be issues.  There is wonderful technology now providing full visual of the area behind the vehicle plus beeps and bloops which give the driver warning about an approaching obstacle. But they should not be complete replacement for the human eye. 
  3. Pedal confusion:  Many people still driving into their 80s learned to drive at a time when it was acceptable to drive with two feet.  The left foot for the brake and the right foot for the gas.  But confusion is rampant among older people.   It is believed that as many as 10% of older people over 65 years of age may have slight dementia so the odds that these folks can mix up the gas and the brake pedal are elevated. Riding the brake is also a sign that a senior isn’t driving with confidence. Watch for this or confusion over other vehicular controls such as signal lights, headlights or even the windshield wipers could be another signal.
  4. Unsafe turns:   Turning left at an intersection, where the driver must use depth perception and have good spatial awareness can tax the abilities of good drivers let alone drivers whose cognitive abilities may be starting to wane.  If a senior doesn’t turn when it’s safe to do so – when there’s plenty of opportunity to enter a turn, or even worse, makes a turn when there’s not enough time – add this to your list of reasons to stop driving.
  5. Poor or delayed reaction:  Did you know that professional race car drivers typically retire in their 40s?  They know that getting older means you get slower.  Is the older person in your life experiencing lag when it comes to navigating traffic?  Are there too many close calls?  Don’t avoid these warning signs, even if drawing attention to them causes conflict.
  6. Speed variances:  Driving too slowly or driving at variable speeds is another sign.  Too slow can be attributed to lack of confidence.  Driving fast, then slow, then fast can point to poor concentration. 
  7. Between the lines:  Poor judgement, motor control and concentration can be exhibited when the senior driver can’t stay between the lines on the road.  That includes spatial awareness and poor judgement when it comes to parking. 
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