If you’ve ever come across a slow-moving car with its left turn signal on and in the fast lane only to find that a little old blue-haired person, you’ve probably thought to yourself that the driver has no %*/? business driving. There’s a chance you’re right … and fortunately, in Florida, where over 20% of our population is over age 65, there’s a pretty easy solution.
I recently received an inquiry from someone involved in an “encounter” (i.e. minor fender bender) with a senior driver with apparent declining abilities. Thankfully, there were no injuries.
That conversation reminded me of the struggle my family encountered when a beloved family member clearly wasn’t able to safely drive anymore.
We struggled because we knew that the loss of her ability to drive would strike a big blow to her (and pretty much everyone’s) cradle-to-grave quest to gain and maintain independence. Nevertheless, it was clear that the time had come for safety to trump autonomy.
The signs of decline
If you encounter a similar situation, you may wonder what to be on the lookout for in senior drivers. The signs of decline are can be subtle or seemingly minor. But in the aggregate, they can be enough to make continued driving risky.
Potential signs of decline to be on the lookout for may include:
- Vision Issues: Plainly, good vision is imperative behind the wheel. As we age, vision impairment issues crop up more and more. Sometimes the issue is correctable, sometimes not. While 20/20 vision is not required, Florida maintains a minimum visual acuity of 20/70 in both eyes (corrected) at the time of licensing. In addition, drivers over age 80, must undergo a Mature Driver Vision Test in order to renew their license, which must be done in person (ie no online renewals after age 80). Plus, some identified eye conditions can also require that a more extensive certified Report of Eye Examination by a licensed ophthalmologist or optometrist be obtained in order to renew.
- Hearing Loss: A blaring siren, horn blast or even squealing brakes could be missed and in turn, a vital opportunity to avoid a crash is, too.
- Flexibility, Range of Motion or Strength Changes: Aging often brings with it more limited mobility which can make something as simple as turning one’s head side to side troublesome. With increasingly crowded, busy roadways, being able to make decisions and react quickly are ever-more important. Slowed reaction times can be problematic when a scenario demanding a quick response unexpectedly arises.
- Cognitive Decline and Signs to be on the lookout for:
- Hesitant to Drive
- Dings, dents and other unexplained damage to car
- Changes in their Driving
How to assess competency of a senior driver
The bottom line is that if you’re concerned, you can report your concerns about a driver (with age actually being immaterial) to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles via HSMV Form 72190/Medical Referral Form.
The form is simple and straightforward, requiring just:
- information about the driver;
- the nature and a brief explanation of suspected physical or medical deficit;
- your relationship to the driver; and
- your information
While the reporter must provide her information, under Florida law that information is kept confidential.
The determination process
Upon receipt of a Medical Referral, a process begins that first determines whether to initiate a review. However, if the validity of the complaint is in question, an investigation to substantiate the complaint is first done.
If a review is required, the driver is notified in writing. They then have 45 days to provide medical information from their doctor.
A Medical Advisory Board then reviews the information. This group contains 12-25 members who are primarily MDs. However, the group also must include an optometrist and a chiropractor.
Among the possible outcomes are a re-examination (including an extended road test) or a follow-up medical report as a condition of licensure; denial of the driving privilege; or continued licensure.
A decision is required within 90 days of receipt of all the requested medical information. The driver must be notified in writing of the decision. Finally, a loss of the privilege can be reconsidered if additional or updated medical information warrants it.
While starting the process is not especially difficult, the determination process is appropriately not so simple. Put another way, avoid impediments on the front end (e.g., is this going to require a lot of work or is this going to cause hard feelings or could I get sued – no, no, no) so the appropriately qualified disability experts can assess whether a medical condition has become serious enough that it now implicates that driver’s ability to safely operate his car.
There are a variety of helpful resources available to older drivers and their families.
Among some is CarFit, an educational program designed by AAA, AARP and the American Occupational Therapy Association. The program provides a way for a senior driver to check how well their cars “fit” them. Trained personnel assess things like the position of the seat relative to the steering wheel and the adjustment of side and rear-view mirrors to ensure a better, safer fit.
A Senior Driving Guide by caring.com includes topics like how to open up a dialogue with an older loved one about their driving.
If you suspect something, say something
Don’t ignore your concerns. If you suspect something, say something. If you suspect something because you were injured in an accident at the hands of a compromised senior driver, give us a call. We’ll help you say something as well as help you with our legal claim.