Driving: How old is too old?

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A fatal auto-pedestrian accident that happened in Holladay Wednesday afternoon brings up a serious question every family must confront: When is the right time for senior drivers to give up their keys to the car?

Many senior drivers are among the safest on the road and rack up decades of driving without a dent, a ding or a ticket, but a great track record does not guarantee future safety. AARP Utah says it's not about age. It's about the ability of the individual driver.

"You really have to look at whether a person poses a threat to public safety, regardless of their age," said Laura Polacheck, associate state director of AARP of Utah.

AARP offers in-class and online driver safety programs for any age. The four-hour courses refresh drivers with the rules of the road.

"It also gives you signs of when you might have to consider giving up the keys or limiting your driving," Polacheck said.

**When to stop driving:**
1. Feeling uncomfortable and nervous or fearful while driving 2. Dents and scrapes on the car or on fences, mailboxes, garage doors, curbs etc. 3. Difficulty staying in the lane of travel 4. Getting lost 5. Trouble paying attention to signals, road signs and pavement markings 6. Slower response to unexpected situations 7. Medical conditions or medications that may be affecting the ability to handle the car safely 8. Frequent "close calls" (i.e. almost crashing) 9. Trouble judging gaps in traffics at intersections and on highway entrance/exit ramps 10. Other drivers honking at you and instances when you are angry at other drivers 11. Friends or relatives not wanting to drive with you 12. Difficulty seeing the sides of the road when looking straight ahead 13. Easily distracted or having a hard time concentrating while driving 14. Having a hard time turning around to check over your shoulder while backing up or changing lanes 15. Frequent traffic tickets or "warnings" by traffic or law enforcement officers in the last year or two
Some of those signs include confusion while driving, not driving at an appropriate speed and avoiding certain streets. Still, giving up the license can be a tough topic to bring up with parents or friends. "People fear losing their independence. Some people, especially if they have signs of dementia, might resent having their independence taken away and may not realize they pose a safety risk," Polacheck said.

She says caregivers and family members should watch their driving. "Make sure you have conversations with them. Reassure them, maybe early on, to say, ‘I've noticed certain things we might want to talk about.' Get them used to the idea they might need alternatives," she said.

AAA reports that in the next two decades one-in-four drivers will be older than 65. The company predicts as many as 10,000 a year could die in crashes if states don't better identify who needs to give up the keys.

A year ago, Utah passed a law that lets you confidentially report bad drivers to the Division of Motor Vehicles to ask for additional driver testing. It enables family members to take action without damaging relationships.

The AARP also has an online quiz to help determine the right time to quit driving. To take the quiz, CLICK HERE.

E-mail: jboal@ksl.com

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Jed Boal


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