Heartfelt chat on older drivers underlines a tough issue for families

In the US, as in Australia, laws relating to older drivers vary from state to state.

A post on Reddit asking whether older drivers in the US should have to pass a special driving test has underlined the difficult decision many families face when an elderly person insists on continuing to drive, risking their safety and that of others.

Reddit, which calls itself ‘the front page of the internet’, lets people post questions for other users, and a popular one about this issue brought stories tumbling forth from people who’ve struggled with the trade-off between their older relatives’ independence and concern that they may have an accident because their driving ability had deteriorated.

According to Elder Law Answers, laws on older drivers very from state to state in the US, with only some putting restrictions on licence renewals in the later years of life, and some even reducing the requirements older drivers must meet. Likewise, in Australia, Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia have specific requirements for older drivers who wish to retain their licence, but other states and territories do not.

Speaking about their own experiences, commenters on Reddit complained that that meant it was often difficult to prevent infirm drivers from taking to the road, with some writers admitting that they had used extreme means to step in where the law had not.

One person said they had reported their own grandmother to the police because she frequently drove without wearing her prescription lenses and while under the influence of alcohol.

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“I reported her for lack of insurance, drunken driving, but the cops didn’t really care to try to catch get and I didn’t have proof,” the Redditor said. “The bar wouldn’t stop excessively serving her alcohol, other family members wouldn’t help because none of them wanted to drive her places, and she would laugh and dismiss my concerns.”

“I feel the same way bout my GREAT grandma (I’m 29 … She’s 89) whom is a public menace behind the wheel,” another writer agreed. “I love her dearly, but she’s been in four accidents the last year ALONE. It’s a similar situation, though. Nobody is willing to take on the responsibility of taking away what is essentially her freedom.”

Another said that they had disabled their mother’s car, but let her believe that it had broken down, while others said that their work frequently brought them into contact with older drivers who refused to give up their license.

“The frequency that they casually drop ‘my doctor told me I can’t drive anymore,’ coupled with the fact that they drove to my office, is terrifying,” one wrote. “One woman could barely walk, who also told me she couldn’t see while I was demonstrating something to her, got in her car and drove away after her appointment.”

“I had a neighbor that was also north of 80, who confessed to me a few months before he died that he was having mini-strokes while driving,” another said.

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But other commentators pointed out that the US, like Australia, was a difficult place to live without the ability to drive, because amenities were often long distances from home, and public transport was patchy.

“The problem is the US is terrible for people without a car,” one American Redditor said. “Rural areas have awful transit options and everything is spread so far apart. Car-oriented design has ruined American cities.”

“Australia is the same,” an Aussie commenter responded. “Very difficult to get around at all without a car outside of the major cities and even in them it can be difficult depending where you live. Doing your grocery shopping, attending doctor’s appointments, getting to work, visiting friends and family, all almost impossible without your own car.”

One commenter suggested that self-drive cars or ride-hailing services such as Uber may be a way of allowing older people to retain their independence after losing their licence.

One 70-year-old commenter, meanwhile, said they personally were happy to be retested regularly if required to prove their ability to drive.

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“In Japan, they have special decals that identify new drivers and the elderly, which I think is a good thing,” the 70-year-old wrote. “If you see someone with an elderly tag, you might not assume that driver sees everything you do or reacts as quickly as you do.”

What are your thoughts on this difficult issue?