“Seniors as a whole are the safest age group on the road, the least likely to speed, the least likely to drink and drive, and the most likely to use seat belts,” says Jake Nelson, director of traffic safety advocacy and research for AAA. “The at-fault crash rate doesn’t start significantly increasing until people are in their mid-70s,” he says, “and even drivers in their 80s have crash rates about half that of teenagers.”
Even so, 28 states and the District of Columbia have special license requirements for the elderly, from vision testing to more frequent renewals. But even those extra steps might not capture problem driving. (TODAY, Health & Wellness, Nov. 25, 2014) If you’re wondering, California is not one of them.
California’s DMV does not have different licensing standards for senior drivers. It is an individual’s mental and/or physical condition or his/her inability to follow traffic laws and rules, regardless of age, that determines whether DMV renews, restricts, suspends, or revokes a driving privilege.
However, senior drivers who have been referred from a driver safety office may be required to pass the Supplemental Driving Performance Evaluation. Sometimes it’s because the driver failed to meet the DMV’s minimum vision requirements. Other times it’s because a law enforcement officer, a physician, relative or friend has concerns about the way you are driving.
The Supplemental Driving Performance Evaluation test includes all the elements of a basic license driving test and some additional driving elements designed to evaluate a person’s cognitive function and safe-driving ability. These additional driving elements are (Source – DMV website):
• Multiple directions — Your driving test examiner will give you two directions at one time. The examiner is checking to see if you understand and can properly follow both directions. For example, the examiner will ask you to “Change lanes to the left and at the next street, make a left turn.” You should be able to perform all the tasks necessary to make a safe lane change and turn into the proper lane at the next street.
• Additional lane changes — Your driving test examiner will evaluate how you make lane changes. Do you signal properly and check for traffic in the lane into which you want to move (look over either your right or left shoulder)? Do you use your mirrors?
• Concentration — Your driving test examiner will talk with you at certain times during your driving test. Distractions are common when driving, and the examiner is checking to see if you are able to respond briefly to these distractions without making any driving errors.
• Freeway or highway driving — Your driving test examiner will ask you to merge onto a freeway and drive a short distance in freeway traffic.
IMPORTANT: If you absolutely do not wish to drive on any freeway, you should discuss this with the examiner. An option for you would be to have a “No Freeway Driving” restriction placed on your driver license, and you will not have to take this portion of the driving test.
• Destination trip — Your driving test examiner will ask you to drive to a location about two blocks from the DMV office. The examiner will then ask you to drive back to the DMV office without any assistance or direction using the same streets you just used to get to your location. The examiner is checking for memory lapses and disorientation. This task is usually the last part of the Supplemental Driving Performance Evaluation test.
An important point to remember at this time is that DMV may issue a license to a customer who has a physical and/or mental condition if that person is able to demonstrate, during a driving test, that he/she compensates for the condition and can drive safely. In certain situations, if the supplemental driving test is too difficult for your abilities, you have the option of taking an Area Driving Performance Evaluation (ADPE). You and the DMV examiner will pre-determine the driving test area and if you pass that driving test, your driver license will be restricted to that area.
Since so many Nisei drivers are in their mid-80s and over, I would imagine that many **Rafu** readers have been (or will be) be referred to DMV or have been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. Cognitive function refers to your ability to process incoming information. Cognition is your awareness of your surroundings using your perception, reasoning, judgment, intuition, and memory.
Any cognitive impairment will negatively affect your ability to drive safely. Dementia is one of the most serious cognitive disorders affecting the older population. Dementia is frequently unrecognized and undocumented. Unfortunately, before it is recognized, dementia can progress beyond the stage where early treatment may have slowed the course of the disease. Seniors suffering from dementia present a significant challenge to driving safety and individuals with progressive dementia ultimately lose their ability to drive safely.
Unlike senior drivers with motor function or vision impairments who tend to self-restrict their driving, senior drivers with dementia will continue driving even when it is unsafe for them to do so. It is often up to family members and caregivers to put a stop to the senior’s driving and arrange alternative transportation for them.
So, how do we know when it’s time to take the car keys away from elderly parents? If you’re not sure, accompany your parent on an errand and let them drive. An article on caring.com (https://www.caring.com/articles/when-to-stop-driving) provides a list of a few signs to watch for:
• Does he fasten his seat belt?
• Does he sit comfortably at the wheel, or does he crane forward or show signs of discomfort?
• Does he seem tense and preoccupied, or easily distracted?
• Is he aware of traffic lights, road signs, pedestrians, and the reactions of other motorists?
• Does he often tailgate or drift toward the oncoming lane or into other lanes?
• Does he react slowly or with confusion in unexpected situations?
So what are we to do if we see our parents start to struggle? Above all, try to be very sensitive. For most seniors, the ability to drive not only signals their independence, but also serves as an essential means of preserving identity. In most locales, a driver’s license is the most widely accepted form of identification. Therefore, to give up one’s driver’s license is akin not only to relinquishing independence and freedom of mobility, but also to loss of self-esteem and power.
Know that for the affected mom or dad the action will probably be traumatic, even a cause for depression. You will be removing the person’s independence, his or her ability to drive to church, supermarket, the park for some sunshine or to visit friends. You will be removing a citizen’s right to drive as authorized by the license. But, it may be necessary.
Calculate the financial savings of not driving. No more auto insurance, fuel bills, car maintenance or registrations fees. At the same time, detailing the financial loss resulting from being the at-fault driver of an accident might be helpful too.
Compile a list of transportation alternatives to driving. A community shuttle, neighbors and family and Uber are all options. While these don’t replace the independence that driving provides, hopefully your parent will be assured that he/she won’t be stuck at home.
One DMV hearing officer suggested I look into Access. “Both my parents ride Access,” she said. So, what is Access? Access Services is a “no-cost” (or low-cost) public transit agency dedicated to providing quality transportation for people with disabilities and seniors that are in need of assistance with transportation needs in Los Angeles County.
Eligibility for Access is based on a person’s functional ability to use accessible buses and trains in Los Angeles County. It is a curb-to-curb shared-ride service. In most cases you will need to schedule your reservation 24 hours in advance. To see if you are eligible for and/or would like more information on how to obtain an Access Pass, call their customer service center at 1-800-827-0829 or go to their website at accessla.org.
Judd Matsunaga, Esq., is the founding partner of the Law Offices of Matsunaga & Associates, specializing in estate/Medi-Cal planning, probate, personal injury and real estate law. With offices in Torrance, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Pasadena and Fountain Valley, he can be reached at (800) 411-0546. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.