When Should Older Drivers Hand Over The Keys?

December 1, 2011

When we talk about dangerous drivers, we often talk of teens. We cite their inexperience, their tendency to text behind the wheel, and so on. Older drivers can be a concern, too, but because of their senior status, it's difficult for many friends and family members to broach the topic. An article in the New York Times points to a possible solution for those who may be losing the necessary skills to keep themselves (and others) safe on the roads.

That solution is a program called "Keeping Us Safe", developed by Matt Gurwell, a retired highway patrolman from Ohio. Gurwell says that he'd witnessed far too many elderly drivers involved in accidents -- many of whom died or were too frail to fully recover. "Keeping Us Safe" is his attempt to work through the sensitive issues surrounding older drivers, providing a way to let seniors  retire their car keys and maintain their dignity.

The "Keeping Us Safe" website offers a number of resources for families dealing with this problem. Gurwell and his colleagues offer personal training on the subject, which runs about $350 for a three-hour session. There's also a guidebook for $27.95 that lets families work through the issues on their own.

Perhaps most interestingly, though, is a document called the "Family Driving Agreement" (PDF). It's a contract that older drivers can sign, in which they entrust a particular family member or friend to tell them when to stop driving. It doesn't carry any legal weight, but it could be a good way to get the conversation started -- which is more than some families are willing to do.

Stats on seniors

The data on older drivers remains sketchy. Some recent studies have indicated that seniors are actually getting safer, even as drivers hold onto their driver's licenses longer. (Though that IIHS study also says that the improvements may stem from older drivers getting better about handing over the keys when it's appropriate and from stricter license renewal laws in some states.) In other cases -- for example, Toyota's recent "sudden acceleration" fiasco -- older drivers seem to be a serious cause for concern.

If you have an older driver in your family, we'd love to hear if and how you've addressed this safety issue. Can it be done while keeping the family intact and preserving the elder's dignity? Feel free to leave us a note in the comments section below.

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