Too old to drive, or just too medicated?

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back door crash

An elderly woman drove her car into the back door of a clinic in May. Fortunately, there were no injuries in this incident. Image: shalf/Flickr/CC BY-SA

A recent tragic incident involving a a 100-year-old driver has revisited the question, when is somebody too old to drive? However, the real problem may be more about medications and their reactions with one another than it is about chronological years.

What is too old to drive?

Late last month, Preston Carter, a 100-year-old driver, backed his Cadillac onto a sidewalk in Los Angeles, injuring nine children and two adults.

Police Capt. George Rodriguez said, at the time:

“I think it was a miscalculation on his part. The gentleman is elderly. Obviously he is going to have some impairment on his decision making.”

A far worse incident occurred in 2003, when an 86-year-old man in Santa Monica accidentally hit the gas instead of the brake, injuring 63 people and killing ten.

Nearly one in every six person will be 65 or older by the year 2020. Most of those people will likely still be driving. Many believe there should be a mandatory age at which people are no longer allowed to drive.

Increasingly medicated

But according to the Automobile Association of America, the problem may be exacerbated by increased medications as people age. More than 80 percent of drivers over the age of 85 are taking medications, often multiple medications, says the auto club. However, only about half have ever discussed with a doctor the impact of those drugs on driving a car. Payment for neglecting that conversation can be very severe.

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AAA Foundation President and CEO Peter Kissinger said:

“Earlier research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that nearly one out of five older drivers use five or more prescription medications.”

Roadside Rx online tool

To address the problem, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has developed an online tool called Roadside Rx. It helps motorists determine how their meds interact, and what impact they may have on their ability to operate a vehicle. The app even calculates in the effects of certain kinds of foods when combined with specific drugs.

Rodriguez said:

“Roadwise Rx is the only tool of its kind that looks at medications and associated driving hazards.”

AAA suggests that elderly drivers also discuss the results they get from using Roadside Rx with their physician or pharmacist.

Beth Mosher, director of public affairs for AAA Chicago, said:

“With seniors often visiting primary and specialty doctors regarding their different health care needs, it is important for each provider to know all medications being consumed. Roadwise Rx lets users move beyond the old-fashioned ‘brown bag’ review with an easy way to virtually pool together their medications and talk to their doctors.”


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