Could you take this woman’s keys?

The ability to drive a car is one of the privileges that most defines quality of life and independent living for the elderly. Unfortunately, the deteriorating effects of aging causes some elderly drivers to become impaired drivers as the following headlines suggest:

“Elderly driver crashes into Ziegler’s Ace Hardware in Huntley” (May 4, 2015, Copyright © 2015 Northwest Herald, http://www.nwherald.com/2015/05/04/elderly-driver-crashes-into-zieglers-ace-hardware-in-huntley/a8toglt/).

“Elderly driver crashes into three parked cars in Brookline” (July 24, 2015, Copyright © 2015 by WTAE.com, http://www.wtae.com/news/elderly-driver-crashes-into-three-parked-cars/34334258).

“Elderly Driver Crashes Into Living Room Near Goleta” (July 28, 2015, Copyright © 2015 NPG of California, LLC, http://www.keyt.com/news/vehicle-crashes-into-living-room/34409382).

“Elderly driver crashes into laundromat” (August 14, 2015, Copyright © 2015, KSWB, a Tribune Broadcasting Station, http://fox5sandiego.com/2015/08/14/elderly-driver-crashes-into-laundromat/).

Jeff Hawkins’ grandfather (Ira Chestnut, 1899-1999) was proud to live independently until the last year or two of his life. He was especially proud to still be driving in his mid-90s. He never drove outside of town in his last years and his old Ford rarely exceeded 40 miles per hour. However, the Plainville United Methodist Church set up a separate parking spot for him (away from the other cars) in his final driving years because he had crunched all four of his car doors against other people’s vehicles during his parking maneuvers.

As the Baby Boom Generation* ages, we expect them to push the average age of drivers much higher. With more aged drivers on the road each year, America must deal with the concern that some aged drivers have become too frail to control their vehicles. Legislators and ethicists will wrestle increasingly with how to keep us safe from impaired drivers, while preserving the pride and independence of our aged citizens.

Many families grieve about how to deal with their older drivers as their ancient senses and reflexes fade. Should they get a court order to take the keys away? Should they sabotage the vehicle and render it inoperable? Should they stand by and watch their loved ones cause deadly accidents?

The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles has authority to intervene with impaired drivers under Indiana Code § 9-24-10-7(a), which provides, “If the bureau has good cause to believe that a licensed driver is:

(1)        incompetent; or

(2)        otherwise unfit to operate a vehicle; the bureau may, upon written notice of at least five (5) days, require the licensed driver to submit to an examination, an investigation of the driver’s continued fitness to operate a motor vehicle safely, including requesting medical information from the driver or the driver’s health care sources, or both an examination and an investigation.

Someone concerned about an elderly person’s impaired driving can contact the Indiana BMV and explain why the impaired person should not continue to drive. Contact information for the Indiana BMV is as follows:

Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles
Indiana Government Center North
Room 402
100 North Senate Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46204

Phone: 888-692-6841

Online Email submission form: http://www.in.gov/bmv/2336.htm

The BMV will then notify the driver that the driver will have a certain number of days to submit to a medical examination and deliver the examination report to the BMV. The BMV will decide then whether to: 1) do nothing, 2) impose restrictions, 3) request that the person take certain action, or 4) suspend the driver’s license.

The BMV cannot solve all of our impaired driver problems. Inevitably, some severely impaired drivers will avoid license suspension while less impaired drivers lose their driving privileges. Until a better solution arrives, let’s all be careful on those dangerous roads.

*The term “baby boomer” refers to individuals born in the United States between mid-1946 and mid-1964 (Hogan, Perez, and Bell, 2008). https://www.census.gov/prod/2014pubs/p25-1141.pdf.

Jeff R. Hawkins and Jennifer J. Hawkins are Trust & Estate Specialty Board Certified Indiana Trust & Estate Lawyers and active members of the Indiana State Bar Association and National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. Both lawyers are admitted to practice law in Indiana, and Jeff Hawkins is admitted to practice law in Illinois. Jeff is also a registered civil mediator, a Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the Indiana Bar Foundation;  a member of the Illinois State Bar Association and the Indiana Association of Mediators; and he was the 2014-15 President of the Indiana State Bar Association.

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