Massachusetts Study to Evaluate Elderly Drivers

In the United States, there is often the feeling that once you get your driver’s license at age 16 or so, you have a license to drive over state and federal roads until the day you die. Some drivers, young or old, are always safe. Some are reckless at any age. But what about those who were safe drivers for so long, but now may be just old enough that reflexes are too slow?

In a program called “Keys to Independence” Emerson Hospital, in Concord Massachusetts, will utilize objective testing to determine the answers to those questions. The battery of tests, administered by an occupational therapist, is to include visual acuity, strength tests range of motion testing, and cognitive and perceptual abilities.
Emerson Hospital also hosts an AARP driving safety program. However, helpful these programs are, we would note that in a recent case in our Massachusetts accident law office, a 95 year old man who testified that he satisfactorily “passed” that program pulled out from a stop sign and caused a crash, on Route 2A in Acton, Massachusetts, when he misjudged the timing of his turn.
Nevertheless, the program seems to be a good step in informing responsible drivers how they are doing. We wonder, however, how much of an effect this will have considering the number of elder drivers that will take the class, and even if they do, what they will do with the results.
In a study undertaken by professors at the Eastern Virginia Medical School,
published in 2005, elderly drivers were tested to see how their perception of their driving skills was, compared to their actual skills. The conclusion of the study stated that “Cognitive ability was not related to self-rated driving evaluation performance.” That is, after self-evaluation, drivers over 65 who considered themselves better drivers than their piers were “over four times more likely to be unsafe drivers.”
Massachusetts law does not require driving tests following the initial test, usually taken at age 16 or 17! There is a new law, which requires that all license renewals for Massachusetts’s drivers at age 75 or above must undertake the Massachusetts RMV vision test, or produce a “vision screening certificate” from their doctor. That law, which became effective on September 30, 2010, known as the Safe Driving Law, was the law that forbids new drivers from using cell phones, and all drivers from texting while driving in Massachusetts.
Let’s try to be fair. As a Boston accident lawyer, I hear a lot from folks who wonder why “that person was driving” at all. Folks that say the elderly shouldn’t drive are just as prejudiced as those that say all teenagers are texting. Most folks take driving very seriously and most have impeccable driving records. How can we differentiate those who are dangerous drivers from the rest of us? Most people know when their capacity to drive diminishes, and they stop. Or they stop at night when they can’t see as well. The motor vehicle laws, no matter how expansive or restrictive, won’t stop negligent drivers and won’t stop someone from slipping on ice or following too close.
Thus, be careful out there. And evaluate yourself, your neighbors and your loved ones on a regular basis. Recommend the Emerson Hospital class, or a similar one, to folks whose driving you think could use evaluation.