Doctors Can Significantly Reduce Elderly Driving Accidents

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Older drivers must be persuaded to give up their driving privileges if safety becomes a concernDriving means more than commuting and carpools; it also means freedom and independence. For this reason, it can be difficult to tell a loved one that she can no longer drive because she is a danger to herself or to others.

Adult children, nieces, nephews and other loved ones are often responsible for having this difficult conversation about driving with their older relative. However, the older relative may be angry and unwilling to listen.

Research Shows There Is Another Way to Talk to Older Drivers

Research has found that when doctors talk to their patients about being unfit to drive, there may be a significant effect on reducing auto accident rates among the elderly.

Donald Redelmeier, MD, of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, and his colleagues reported their findings in the September 27, 2012 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Redelmeier and the team tracked each patient in a selected cohort, looking for car-accident–related emergency room visits, both before and after the doctor’s warning. The data were gathered only if the patient was the driver in the accident, not if he or she was a passenger or a pedestrian.

The researchers found that the annual rate of car accidents dropped 45 percent among individuals whose doctors warned them about the dangers of continuing to drive, compared to rates for the preceding three years. In essence, the annual rate dropped from 4.76 per thousand persons—more than twice the rate in the general population—to 2.73 accidents per thousand—still a high rate, but a significant decrease.

Are There Negative Consequences to the Warnings?

The researchers found a couple of drawbacks to doctors advising their patients to quit driving. Specifically:

  • Emergency room visits for depression increased by 27 percent, from 19.15 per thousand patients before the warnings to 23.91 after.
  • The doctor–patient relationship may have suffered after the warning. Twnety-nine percent of the patients who were warned visited their doctors less frequently than they had previously.

Kentucky doctors are permitted, but not required, to report their concerns to the Kentucky Division of Driver Licensing. If a physician or someone else reports his concern, then the Medical Advisory Board will decide whether or not the driver has an impairment that could interfere with her ability to drive safely.

If you believe that your loved one may be unsafe behind the wheel, then you may speak with your loved one directly, you may notify the Kentucky Division of Driver Licensing directly, or you may speak with your loved one’s physician about your concerns. The conversation could save your loved one’s life or the life of someone else on the road.