How old is too old to drive? The answer varies

As our loved ones get holder, we owe it to them to do our part to help them stay safe and healthy. In some cases, this may mean having a difficult discussion about whether your elderly friend or relative should still be driving a car.

Some elderly people will be able to drive safely for their entire lives. However, for others, the physical and mental changes that come with getting older substantially increase the likelihood of a serious, or even fatal, car accident.

Recognizing the warning signs

Because age related changes often come on gradually, it can be hard for an older person to realize that he or she should no long drive. In addition, even individuals who are aware of their changing health may be reluctant to give up the sense of independence that comes along with having a driver's license.

Because of this, it is very important to pay attention to how your elderly loved one is doing. Some of the warning signs to watch out for include the following:

Difficulty with vision, both during the day and at night

  • Hearing loss
  • Confusion or dementia
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Slow reaction time
  • Joint problems or impaired mobility
  • Medications that can cause drowsiness, confusion, slowness or blurry vision

In some cases, you may be able to help your loved one make lifestyle changes that can mitigate these risks. For example, someone who has a hard time hearing emergency sirens might be able to drive more safely with a new hearing aid. A person who is experiencing decreased range of motion could benefit from having his or her mirrors, seat and steering wheel adjusted to be more ergonomically-friendly.

In other situations, however, it is best for the elderly person to stop driving altogether. You and your loved one's doctor are in the best place to help him or her make that decision. Don't assume that your loved one is safe to drive simply because the Department of Public Safety renewed his or her driver's license-families in Texas have routinely reported that the DPS allowed their elderly loved ones to renew their driver's licenses despite serious health concerns.

If accidents happen

According to DPS data, there were over 434,000 licensed drivers age 80 and older in Texas as of 2012. While many of these drivers pose no risk to public safety, many of them do. Every driver, regardless of age, has a legal duty to refrain from getting behind the wheel if he or she poses a threat to others on the road.

If you or a loved one gets into an accident caused by a dangerous elderly driver, you may have a right to seek legal recourse for the damages that have been done. An experienced personal injury attorney can explain your rights and help you seek compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.