Some older drivers are opting to sign “advance directives” as a proactive measure to decide when it might be time to retire from driving. These directives are aimed at safeguarding both the driver’s safety and easing the often challenging decisions faced by families.
Lewis Morgenstern, a 61-year-old professor at the University of Michigan, plans to sign such an agreement when he turns 65, entrusting his children to decide when he should cease driving. Morgenstern, a neurology and neurosurgery expert, acknowledges the possibility of being unable to make the best driving decisions at some point and wants his children to assume that responsibility.
Morgenstern co-authored a study in November 2023 that analyzed the driving behaviors of 635 individuals with cognitive impairment. The study found that 61% of older adults with cognitive issues continued to drive, despite concerns from 36% of their caregivers.
The risks associated with senior driving have been on the rise. Data from 2021 revealed that nearly 50 million people aged 65 and older held driver’s licenses, marking a 38% increase from 2012. Motor vehicle deaths involving drivers aged 65 and older rose by 34% between 2012 and 2021.
Noteworthy risks for older drivers include medical conditions such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease, glaucoma, and arthritis. Concerns encompass issues like fender benders, compromised visual processing speed at night, and a greater risk of accidents due to hearing loss.
Nigel Tunnacliffe, CEO of Coastline Academy, emphasizes that there is no universal age at which people should stop driving. Instead, he advocates for decisions based on actual evaluations of an individual’s driving capabilities, considering factors like vision loss, hearing loss, and decreased mobility.
Various types of advance driving directives exist, including non-binding contracts that involve designating someone to discuss the safety of continued driving. Another type involves family members agreeing to assist the individual in driving safely or finding alternative transportation. Additionally, the Alzheimer’s Association has a non-binding directive for those with dementia, encouraging them to designate someone to address driving-related concerns as the disease progresses.
While advance directives are seen as a positive step, concerns exist about individuals with memory disorders forgetting that they signed such contracts. Formal evaluations by third-party driver rehabilitation specialists are recommended to minimize conflicts and uncertainties. Annual driving lessons and open conversations about cognitive abilities are also advised for senior drivers.
The goal is to ensure that decisions about continued driving are based on objective assessments rather than arbitrary age thresholds.