When to Consider Taking Keys from Older Drivers

6:02 PM, Sep 21, 2011   |    comments
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BUFFALO, N.Y.- Although the cause a fatal crash over the weekend at an Amherst Cheeburger Cheeburger restaurant has not been determined, the fact that the driver involved is in her 70s has again generated a conversation about senior citizens and driving.

New York is one of 17 states that does not place any extra restrictions on senior drivers.  The remaining 33 and the District of Columbia all have some sort of restriction in place, whether it's requiring older drivers to come in for license renewals more often, or requiring them to renew in person rather than by mail or online.

For example, in Massachusetts, where drivers must renew their licenses every five years, drivers 75 and older must renew in person, and in Texas where the renewal period is every six years, drivers older than 85 must renew every two years.

There are nineteen states that require those accelerated renewals. About half of the country has some other type of special provision, including vision tests for older drivers, renewals in-person, or requiring that drivers re-take a road test when they reach a certain age. While proponents say those restrictions work, some say focusing on age is the wrong approach.

"Age in and of itself is not a good predictor," said Charles Battaglia, Coordinator of Neighborhood Services at the Erie County Department of Aging. "What we should be focusing on is a person's functioning ability. Their physical and cognitive impairments that make them more of an at-risk driver."

Battaglia says warning signs of at-risk drivers include not paying attention to traffic signs, getting honked at a lot and having a number of fender benders.

If those signs fit, he says it might be time to start a conversation about limiting a person's driving or taking away the keys. He says you should not have the conversation while the person is driving. He also recommends giving specific examples of incidents that trouble you, and being sure the person understands what's at risk.

"Is the person really aware of what the consequences could be, the risk to themselves and possibly other people," said Battaglia.

Both AAA and the Erie County Department of Aging offer resources to help determine if a loved one should still be driving, including driver assessment programs.

The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles also offers resources.

If you are concerned about a driver and can't get that person to agree to a driving assessment, the DMV offers a confidential form that allows you to request a driver review. It must be signed by a notary.

You can download that form online by visiting the DMV's website.

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