“Losing the independence of mobility can be particularly devastating for a driver with years behind the wheel,” said PennDOT Secretary Barry J. Schoch. “It’s essential for older drivers and their family members to speak openly about driving safely or how to handle changes in driving ability.”
Approximately 20 percent of Pennsylvania’s nearly 8.9 million licensed drivers are 65 and older. In 2013, mature drivers were involved in 15 percent of statewide crashes and 23 percent of fatalities.
To help keep older drivers safe behind the wheel, approved driver improvement courses are available for older drivers who may only need to sharpen their driving skills. Courses are offered statewide and fees vary. A list of organizations offering courses is available at www.JustDrivePA.org at the “Older Driver” link under the Traffic Safety Information Center.
Insurance companies provide at least a 5 percent premium discount when policyholders 55 or older successfully complete an approved driver improvement course. Individuals must take an approved driver improvement course every three years to remain eligible for the discount and may be disqualified if involved in a chargeable crash, convicted of a moving violation or convicted for driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, which may include prescribed medications.
In addition to taking courses and reviewing safety information, older drivers and their families should be mindful of potential physical, visual and cognitive changes that can occur through aging. Since these changes can affect a driver’s ability to safely operate a vehicle, older drivers and their families should work together to identify potential issues that may affect driving, outline courses of action to assist the older driver, and plan for when it’s time to hang up the keys. Signs which could indicate it may be time to limit or stop driving altogether include:
• Feeling uncomfortable, fearful or nervous when driving;
• Unexplained dents/scrapes on the car, fences, mailboxes or garage doors;
• Frequently getting lost and frequent “close calls” (i.e. almost crashing);
• Slower response times, particularly to unexpected situations;
• Difficulty paying attention to signs or staying in the lane of traffic; and
• Trouble judging gaps at intersections or highway entrance and exit ramps.
PennDOT uses two programs to help strike a balance between safety and mobility among all drivers. Under the Medical Reporting Program, the law requires medical professionals to report to PennDOT any person age 15 or older who has been diagnosed with a condition that may impair their ability to drive safely, which could lead to a restricted license or a recall of the driving privilege. Through the Mature Driver Re-examination Program, each month PennDOT randomly selects 1,900 drivers over the age of 45 to undergo physical and vision exams at the time of license renewal. If the results suggest a need, the individual may be required to complete a driver’s exam.
PennDOT also receives reports from law enforcement, and concerned family members and friends, which trigger a review process and possible further exams.
PennDOT offers drivers who wish to voluntarily turn in their licenses for medical reasons a one-time free identification card. The normal $27.50 fee is waived the first time an identification card is issued to a person turning in their license for medical reasons. Drivers wishing to use this option can fill out a DL-54A form, Application for Initial Photo Identification Card, and bring it with their license to a Driver’s License Center. Both the form and a list of Driver’s License Centers are available at the Driver and Vehicle Services website, www.dmv.state.pa.us
Whether through necessity or mutual agreement with family members, the transition from longtime motorist to non-driver is a major life change for older Pennsylvanians. PennDOT offers assistance through the Shared-Ride Program and free public transportation for senior citizens. More information is available at www.PAcommutes.com.
For additional safety tips and to download the “Talking with Older Drivers” publication developed by PennDOT and the Department of Aging, visit PennDOT’s highway safety website, www.JustDrivePA.org, and select the “Older Driver” link under the Traffic Safety Information Center.