Signs of unsafe senior drivers

Published 4:30 pm Monday, July 25, 2016

In late May I wrote an article about driving and people with dementia, and the risks associated to everyone from the driver, family, doctor and injured parties that can occur if a known dementia patient is allowed to continue driving. Just because the state of North Carolina issues a person a driver’s license it doesn’t mean that person is fit to drive.

Taking away someone’s driver’s license is a severe blow to their independence, and quite often doctors don’t want to impact their patients in that way. For doctors that may create and unintended liability issue if they fail to act knowing that their patient has dementia or other physical or cognitive issues but took no action to have that patient’s driving skills evaluated.

Here are some signs of trouble that might be serious indicators that a senior driver may be unsafe and is at risk for becoming an accident waiting to happen.

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• The senior has difficulty in turning his head, neck or back to look to his/her left or right, or when attempting to back the car out of a garage or parking space.

• An increasing number of mysterious dents in the car’s fenders and side panels.

• The senior demonstrates increased agitation with other drivers or driving conditions.

• The senior makes bad judgment calls when making left-hand turns into traffic or across multiple lane streets or highway resulting in close calls of being struck.

• The senior looks for simple straight ahead parking because they can no longer park properly when pulling into or backing into a parallel parking space.

• The senior driver cannot maintain lane discipline and drifts across lanes or changes lanes without using the signal indicator or checking the outside mirrors.

• The senior driver misjudges stopping distance and begins braking late or has to slam on the brakes to avoid rear-ending the car(s) ahead of him at a stop sign or light.

• The senior fails to closely adhere to the posted speed limits by either driving too fast or too slowly; both create situations that increase the likelihood of an accident.

The senior driver tends to ride the brakes, or too often alternates between unsmooth acceleration and constant breaking while driving, even on highways.

If you have a family member showing some of these signs of risky driving, you can request that they be given a specially designed “Driver Evaluation Test’ by an occupational therapist and is offered in Asheville by Care Partners. A doctor or family member can request an appointment for your loved one, and if s/he fails the very thorough evaluation, the Department of Motor Vehicles is notified and a letter sent revoking that person’s driver’s license.

It’s tough love, and it’s not inexpensive – $450, and not covered by insurance. But the alternative of an accident resulting in injury, death and the potential for financial devastation from a liability lawsuit may have to outweigh ignoring making that hard decision. To contact Care Partners call 828-274-6179.

Ron Kauffman is a consultant and expert speaker on issues of aging, Medicare and Obamacare. Ron is the author of “Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease,” available as a Kindle book on His podcasts can be heard weekly at Contact Ron at 828-696-9799 or by email at