Aging Drivers: Is it time to turn over your keys?

Senior drivers in Michigan (and their loved ones) should keep the following in mind when assessing whether it might be time to stop driving.

There will come a time where many of us will no longer be able to drive safely due to old age. If we aren’t at that time in our lives already, we may know someone who senior-driver-michiganeither shouldn’t be driving or will soon approach that time. Senior drivers in Michigan who continue to drive even though they should not pose a risk to themselves and others on the road. Through this and future blog posts, we will highlight some of the issues facing aging drivers and the resources and ways in which you can deal with this topic with your loved ones.

Michigan has one of the oldest populations in the country, with over 14% of Michigan residents being at least 65 years old. We also have a greater number of seniors driving on Michigan roads. While driving is often associated with independence and is generally a large part of our lives, there will come a time when it is no longer possible to continue driving without putting ourselves, family members and friends, and others around us at risk. Quite simply, it’s a reality many of us will have to face in one way or another. Whether we are approaching (or already are at) the age where hearing, vision, or cognitive function just isn’t what it used to be, or whether our loved ones are at that age, it’s important to confront the issue head on.

Driver’s License Renewal – Tips for aging drivers to remember

The Michigan Department of State typically sends driver’s license renewal notices 45 days before the expiration of driver’s licenses. It is recommended that you try to go in at least 2 weeks prior to expiration – that way, if there are any issues that arise, you have time to take care of them well before your license expires (failing to do so might leave you in a pinch!). While renewals may be done online or via mail, if your notice states that you may not do so, be prepared to make a trip to your local Secretary of State’s office in person. This will generally be the case if you last renewed your driver’s license online or by mail.

Alternatively, if you aren’t required to renew your license in person but you have physical and/or mental impairments that may impact your ability to drive safely, you should plan on visiting the Secretary of State in person.

Physical and Mental Standards for Michigan Drivers

If you are senior driver in Michigan, it is worth remembering that there are general standards to which all drivers must be upheld. If your ability to meet these requirements is jeopardized in any way, it might be time to hand over your keys. According to administrative rules issued by the Michigan Department of State, among the conditions that may jeopardize your ability to drive (and, therefore, maintain a valid driver’s license) are any of those causing or contributing to the following:

  • Lapse of consciousness
  • Blackout
  • Seizure
  • Fainting spell
  • Syncope
  • Other impairment of the level of consciousness.

Other conditions include those that “cause[] or contribute[] to an impairment of an individual’s driving judgment or reaction time or affects an individual’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle” and those that “cause[] or contribute[] to a violent or aggressive action relating to the operation of a motor vehicle.” R 257.851.

If you are given a vision test at the Secretary of State’s office and either glasses or contacts are needed to pass the assessment, your license may indicate that they must be worn in order for you to drive. If you do not pass the vision test, your eye doctor will need to fill out paperwork either stating that you can or cannot drive safely. If the vision statement is favorable, a license may be issued. However, it’s possible that you may be issued a restricted license, i.e., you may only drive during daylight hours.

Being Proactive: Self-Assessment for Senior Drivers

Aging drivers may also take steps to avoid being comfortable while driving. This is may be something to consider if the idea of driving makes you nervous, or if you feel you are putting yourself (and others) at risk by being on the road. The publication titled “Michigan’s Guide for Aging Drivers and Their Families” has offered a number of ideas for older Michigan drivers to keep in mind when they self-restrict their driving. A few of them are listed below:

  • Drive during daylight hours only if you have difficulty seeing at night.
  • Drive during good weather conditions only.
  • Steer clear from rush hour and/or heavy traffic.
  • Stay away from highways, especially since traffic speeds are fast-paced.
  • Drive in familiar areas only.
  • Map out routes that will make your commute less stressful.
  • Drive with a friend.
  • Let someone else drive you to your destination if you are uncomfortable doing so yourself.

All in all, making the decision to stop driving is not an easy one to make. However, if driving places you, your loved ones, or other Michigan drivers at risk, it might be time to hand over your keys.

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