Given the freedom being behind the wheel provides—the wind in your hair, the wondrous Route 66+ unfurling before you at speed—it’s no wonder we don’t want to hang up our keys as we age into our golden years. But with safety on the line, and the brash temerity of youth in the rear-view mirror, it makes sense for seniors to take a moment to slow down and consider their driving abilities, their health, and what’s to come on the road ahead.
If you or a loved one will soon be approaching that particular intersection (or have already blown through it while cackling), here are some things for you to keep in mind in advance of what can sometimes be a difficult conversation.
With more and more baby-boomers reaching retirement age every year, senior citizens are now the fastest growing age group in the United States. While Ventura County’s 65+ population appears slightly lower than the national average (14.6%, compared to 15.2%), local 2016 census data shows that age group quickly climbing past 125,000 residents. What’s more, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, “by the year 2030, an estimated 1 in 5 drivers in the United States (U.S.) will be 65 years old or older.”
In a 2015 press release promoting safe senior driving, the California Highway Patrol revealed that “…data from the CHP’s Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System showed 24,227 drivers aged 65 or older were involved in fatal or injury collisions in California in 2013. Of those collisions, 233 older drivers were at fault in fatal collisions and 11,788 older drivers were at fault in injury collisions.”
The data is sobering, and something to bear in mind when considering discussing options with your loved ones, but it’s not all grim. In the same press release, then CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow noted that “Drivers age 65 and older may have a better overall safety record than other age groups,” continuing to say, “but they often face challenges with continued mobility.”
The CA DMV agrees, last year releasing a comprehensive, 84-page safety guide geared towards senior drivers and their loved ones. As dry as it sounds (it is the DMV, after all), it is veritable cornucopia of information, tips, and public service references.
Of particular import is their outline of the health issues serving as obstacles to safe driving, which include common visual impairments (macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma), hearing loss (especially problematic if you can’t hear your turn signal when it’s on), and cognitive impairments such as dementia, sleep disorders, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke.
But probably the most interesting takeaway is that, contrary to popular belief, there is no upper age limit for maintaining a driver’s license in the State of California. In fact, many seniors are able to maintain their independence through driving well into their 90’s (and beyond).
It’s also a myth that the DMV will automatically reexamine drivers after they reach a certain age, though they do have the authority to reevaluate any driver’s ability behind the wheel “due to a physical or mental condition or a poor driving record.” The exception—and this one is important to remember—is for drivers who are 70 years of age or older at the time their license expires.
Per California law, the drivers falling into the aforementioned category must appear in person at their local DMV. Upon arrival, before being allowed to renew their licenses, they will be required to undergo both a knowledge test on a touchscreen terminal (with three chances to pass) and vision test. For the latter, the DMV looks for a standard of 20/40 vision, unaided. Should your vision not meet the requirements, you will be required to visit a vision specialist.
While the DMV understands the important of driving to one’s independence, their primary concern is the safety of all drivers, so following a reexamination, so drivers over 70 might face certain restrictions. These might include no nighttime driving, no freeway driving, the installation of more mirrors in your car, and a requirement to wear corrective lenses.
Also in this guide are a number of handy self-assessments, both related to skills and health issues. In the references section a the end of this post, you’ll find a link to the guide, with specific pages numbers to each assessment included.
It’s ironic that with the freedom of retirement comes the limitations of age. Throughout our lives, our independence is hard won, and nowhere is a better experienced than on the California’s second-to-none open roads.
By keeping tabs on your health, and being honest with your loved ones about your abilities, you put yourself in the best possible position to not just continue driving safely as a senior, but to truly get the most mileage out of your Golden State golden years.
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Check Out These References for Further Reading:
“Quick Facts Ventura County, California.” The United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 11 April 2018. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/venturacountycalifornia/AGE275210
“The Nation’s Older Population Is Still Growing, Census Bureau Reports.” The United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 11 April 2018. https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2017/cb17-100.html
“DMV Senior Guide for Safe Driving.” State of California Department of Motor Vehicles. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
“Senior Guide for Safe Driving, Part 2: Assessing Your Driving.” State of California Department of Motor Vehicles. Retrieved 11 April 2018. https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/pubs/senior_toc/part2#assessing
· Self-assessments can be found on pages 6, 18, 19, 20, 53 (for family members).
“CHP Supports California Senior Drivers (Press Release).” California Highway Patrol. Retrieved 11 April 2018. https://www.chp.ca.gov/PressReleases/Pages/CHP-Supports-California-Senior-Drivers.aspx