Taking the Keys: Data reveals increase in fatal crashes caused by elderly drivers

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — ‘Taking the Keys’ from a family member or friend is a crossroads most reach, whether you already have, you currently are, or you will at some point. How to maneuver through the process is often difficult, as car keys symbolize freedom and independence to many people, regardless of age.

“There were two things that were important to her, her cell phone…she slept with her cell phone in her hand, and her car because the church she was involved in, they had what they call the gang, and they would go out to eat two or three times a week,” Willis Lee said about his mother. 

ALDOT released data in 2015 concerning crashes involving elderly drivers. We found the data alarming because there was an increase in accidents and fatal accidents targeting the age group of 70 years or older. The number of crashes within the 20s age group surpassed 70 years and older, but there was an increase in accidents and fatalities following the age of 69. For more details on the statistics, click here (drivesafealabama.org). 

“We had a traffic crash on I-20 in St. Clair County, and when I got there it was an elderly lady,” Alabama Senior Trooper Chuck Daniel said. “She was going up the hill and ran out of gas, and she just let it roll backwards on an active highway. We contacted her family and they said we’d been searching for her.”

The data suggests car keys are not being taken away in time when their lives and the lives of others depend on it. There are cases where taking the keys becomes a lot more difficult than predicted. The person may feel disrespected, not old enough, stripped of their independence, and receiving the news from a family member or friend does not go over well. If this is the case, a third party intervention plan may be a good next step.

“Each situation is different and we have to evaluate it in love,” Sr. Trooper Daniel said.  

University of Alabama at Birmingham has a ‘Elderly Driving Assessment Clinic.’ The assessment is held at the Callahan Eye Hospital but provides the service for anyone with medical conditions – vision problems, impaired motor or mental skills, dementia, movement disorders, brain injury or stroke – that may affect their driving. 

The clinicians evaluate the patient thoroughly through different testing to conclude if he/she is still equipped to drive. A driving test is involved in this course. During the assessment, the specialists on staff can help the driver overcome obstacles that may be threatening road safety. The results for each patient remain confidential, and the final recommendation about taking away the keys is made by the referring physician, Alabama Department of Public Safety (during a routine license renewal) or the family.

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