Identifying Unsafe Senior Drivers Within Senior Living Communities

As the baby boomers age, so does the number of drivers in the United States who are 65 years of age and older. This is just one of the many social issues providers will be dealing with as residents with driver’s licenses are admitted to Senior Living Communities.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 20% of all traffic fatalities in the U.S. were age 65 and older.1 And by the year 2030, it is estimated that one of every five drivers in the United States will be 65 years of age or older.

Provider’s must be very careful not to overlook any of the signs of unsafe senior driving while still respecting the autonomy and lifestyle of the resident. There are many signs which can be associated with unsafe driving; some of them include:

  • The current physical condition or range of motion issues with the resident, such as:
    • Any stiffness of joints
    • Inability to raise arms
    • Inability to look back over the shoulder
    • Any pain in limbs and extremities
    • Weakness and coordination of muscles
    • Reaction time
  • Any vision problems, such as:
    • Inability to see the road markers
    • Night driving issues
    • Inability to recognize someone across the street
    • Inability to see traffic signs or lights
  • Any vision diagnosis and/or eye medication, for which an ophthalmologist has recommended no further driving
  • Medications can have several side effects which can affect the resident’s driving abilities. Examples include: dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, nervousness, possible jitteriness, lethargy, inability to focus and/or pay attention
  • Hearing issues, such as inability to hear a horn, sirens, or any other sound which may require the resident to pull over
  • Memory problems, such as:
    • Any dementia issues
    • Inability to follow simple directions
    • Getting lost or frequently missing an exit which the resident is very familiar with
    • Getting the gas and brake pedal mixed up
    • Having “fender benders” that cannot be recalled

So how does the community minimize their risk exposure? Driving is a privilege for residents and the community should have a policy in place for residents driving their own vehicles on community property. The policy needs to be reviewed by the community legal department and Medical Director (if applicable). Some of the information to include in the policy is:

  • The resident must have a current driver’s license, and provides a copy to the community
  • The resident must have current automobile insurance with limits of $100,000.00, and provides copy to the community
  • The resident has had a current physical from their physician
  • The resident must have a written order from the physician to drive
  • A copy of a successful recent ophthalmology exam
  • The community has the right to revoke driving privileges on community property without notice, for the safety of the resident and public
  • The resident must sign an agreement to abide by the community’s policy on “Residents Driving their own Vehicle on Community Property”
  • The resident should not be distracted while driving on property; no eating, drinking, tuning radios, setting up navigation systems, etc. while driving; no cell phone use, including hands free
  • The resident vehicles should be in good condition; (example: ice and snow should be removed from all windows before departing)
  • The community should set-up a tickler file to ensure insurance is renewed at expiration

Educate the resident and family members on the community “resident driving” policy prior to admission. Have the resident sign an agreement to abide by the community policy; include in the agreement a statement which verbalizes that the community has the right to revoke the resident’s driving privileges on community property without notice.

Educate and train the staff to look for unsafe driving by the resident and how to report occurrences. Have staff report any unusual behaviors and to observe for any of the unsafe driving signs listed above. Provide a communication form for staff so they can easily report any observed bad driving practices by a resident

Communities should coordinate periodic safe driving sessions for residents. Many law enforcement or non-profit agencies will provide an instructor at a nominal cost. Many states also offer discounts on automobile insurance for senior drivers who have taken an approved course. Periodically distribute or post safe driving materials to residents. For sample materials click on the Nationwide link below.

Evaluations must include participation of the resident, family, and doctor. Interview the resident, family, and significant others to inquire about:

  • Any driving safety issues that they have witnessed or been told about
  • Any moving violations within the past three years
  • Recent fender benders their loved one may have experienced
  • Any concerns the residents’ friends have expressed about their driving
  • Whether the resident considered any other transportation alternatives

Most residents respect their physician’s advice, so if the physician does not feel it would be in the best interest for the resident to drive, have the physician ask for the resident’s car keys; hopefully the resident will graciously accept it. If your community has a Medical Director, that is also another resource the provider can use. The Medical Director should be able to offer assistance and counsel the resident regarding their medical and health issues, the side effects of medications and overall physical condition. Communities also have therapy departments which work with resident’s who wish to maintain or restore their ability to function safely to drive.

In conclusion, as more and more baby boomers settle in retirement communities it is important for the providers to prepare now and develop policies and procedures for safe resident driving expectations.

There are many resources and helpful websites available to providers on unsafe driving signs; below are a few:  

1 NHTSA: 2019 Traffic Safety Facts

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