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Continued: Are Doctors Responsible for Helping Take the Car Keys Away from Aging Drivers?

Craig McClellan

In our last blog post, we raised the question about whether (and when) doctors are responsible for reporting concerns about an aging patient's ability to drive.

In 2010, at a national Transportation Safety Board hearing on aging drivers, a doctor with the medical advisory board for the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration testified that doctors in most states are often not aware whether they even have any obligation to report patient's abilities to the local DMV.

According to the Los Angeles Times, as of 2011, only seven states had mandatory reporting requirements for doctors. And several states have loosened previous reporting requirements at the concern that if older individuals thought their doctors could take away their driver's licenses they would avoid seeking medical care.

In California, the law says that doctors must report patients that have "disorders characterized by lapses of consciousness" to local health authorities, who then report to the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Such disorders would include things like Alzheimer's and dementia, but the law leaves the definition open-ended so that doctors can use their own judgment as to whether a patient is still capable of driving.

In the case of the 85-year-old woman who caused a car accident that killed her boyfriend, it is not entirely clear whether the doctor should have reported the woman to the health board. Even though she had been diagnosed with dementia, it appeared that symptoms had not yet affected much of her daily life. Her own daughter was not even aware that her mother had been diagnosed.

The number of drivers over 65 is expected to reach 57 million by 2030 - that is almost twice as many older drivers on the road than in 2007, according to the LA Times. And federal report released in 2007 found that drivers aged 75 or older have a higher chance of being involved in a fatal crash. Statistics such as these do no bear well for the future safety of motorists.

So the question remains, who should be monitoring drivers as they age? In California there is a law that requires all drivers older than 70 to renew their driver's licenses in person, but their licenses, once renewed, are still good for four years. And a lot can change in one's health over the course of four years. Should the family intervene and take away the keys? Is the onerous on one's physician? Does the sole responsibility fall to the DMV?

If you have an aging loved one, what will you do?