Washington’s Elderly Drivers: How to Keep them Safe and Independent

There are over 1.1 million licensed drivers in Washington State ages 65 and over. And data shows that people over the age of 70 are in the fastest growing population segment in our State. This is a pressing consideration as our elderly population face unique challenges that can make driving difficult and at times, unsafe. Further, elderly people tend to be frailer and more susceptible to serious injury and fatality when in a car crash.

But asking an elderly person to give up driving can impact their lives in many ways. Driving can be a core part of a person’s independence. In fact, some studies show that talking to an elderly parent about when to give up driving is more difficult than discussing final wishes or finances.

There are steps you can take to help the elderly loved ones in your life drive safer and smarter. Plus, know the signs for when it’s time to grow concerned and get involved. Thankfully, there are resources available to help your loved one retain their independence, even if they must give up their keys.

Elderly Drivers are a Sizable Population Segment

It’s clear that the population of seniors is growing in the US. Besides this, many are retaining their drivers licenses well into their 70s, 80s, and beyond.

Consider some of these statistics from the CDC, AAA, and Target Zero:

  • As of 2020, 48.0 million seniors ages 65 and over had their driver’s license. This is a staggering 68% increase since 2000.
  • It’s predicted that by 2030, there will be 70.0 million seniors ages 65 and over. Approximately 85-90% of this group will still have their driver’s license.
  • Seniors represent 14% of all traffic-related fatalities in Washington State.

When to be Concerned about an Elderly Driver

Let’s be clear: age alone is not a reason for a person to give up driving. However, as we age, there’s a greater chance that we’ll face physical or cognitive challenges. In addition, 89% of US adults ages 65 and older take prescription drugs. Some of these may impact one’s ability to drive.

Here are some signs that might indicate that an older driver needs to modify or stop driving:

  • Frequent traffic tickets
  • Accidents, even minor “fender benders”
  • Dings or scratches on the car
  • Slow reaction times
  • Hearing or vision loss or impairment
  • Significant health changes
  • Forgetfulness or confusion while driving

When in doubt, ask yourself this question: would I be nervous to be a passenger in this person’s car? 

How to Make Driving Safer for an Elderly Driver

First, let’s share some ways you can keep your elderly loved one driving safer. These tips may be useful if your loved one is starting to face some health challenges but is still capable of driving.

  • Make adaptations to their vehicle. Adaptations such as pedal extenders, key extenders, and steering wheel knobs can make driving easier for seniors. However, make sure that any additions are installed properly by a certified vehicle modifier. Reach out to your car’s dealership for help.
  • Stay up on vision care. Keep current with routine vision checks. Update any prescriptions for glasses and medications.
  • Check with doctor about medications and driving. Before starting a new medication, ask the doctor if there is a possibility it could impact driving. Encourage your loved one to see how their body reacts to a new medicine before getting behind the wheel.
  • Stay physically fit. Staying active has both physical and mental benefits. Studies also show that seniors who regularly exercise (such as walking) tend to stay independent longer.
  • Opt to drive when it’s nicer out. Encourage your loved one to run their errands during the day and nix the driving when it’s rainy or stormy.
  • Plan safe driving routes. Help your loved one map the safest, easiest route possible. Can they take slower, residential roads instead of the freeway? Visit the store with a large, well-lit parking lot instead of the smaller market with street-only parking?

Washington Seniors: Take a Driver Course, Save on Insurance

Here’s one more tidbit we think all Washington State seniors should know about: if you take an 8-hour online collision prevention course, you could save money on your car insurance. All Washington drivers ages 55 and older are eligible.

To learn more, head to the Washington DOL website.

Finding New Ways to Get Around

It can be difficult to have a conversation with an elderly person about how and when to stop driving. But don’t wait until a serious accident happens before you speak up.

One of the best ways you can be supportive is to help your loved one explore other ways for them to get around. Some people may feel really uncomfortable using any of these services if they’ve never used them before. Offer to walk them through the steps of scheduling or even better, join them for their first ride.

Options for seniors in Piere County:

  • Rideshare services (Lyft/Uber). While these are convenient and flexible services, the drawback may be uncertainty in using a mobile app. The cost may also be higher than other transportation methods.
  • Bus system. This could be an option depending on where your loved one lives and likes to travel. As a bonus, Pierce County offers reduced fares for seniors.
  • Friends and family members. Your elderly loved one may appreciate the personal connection. However, not everyone is available to assist.
  • Shuttle service. Pierce County offers $1 cash one-way shuttle service for the elderly.

There are additional options that may work better. Pierce County has a list of transportation options on their website.

Can We Help You?

At Ladenburg Law, we assist clients every day who have been injured as victims of car crashes. If you’ve been in a crash – or know someone who has – you can always reach out to our team. One of our attorneys will be happy to answer your questions and see if we can help. There’s no cost for a consult. In fact, we only charge a fee if we’re able to win you a settlement.

Want to reach out to us today? Call us at 253.272.5226 or fill out the short form on our Contact Us page.

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