Too Old To Drive: The Difficult Decision Mainers face on hanging up the keys

Too Old To Drive: The Difficult Decision Mainers Face on Hanging up the Keys

Feb 6, 2014

BANGOR, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — As many people in the state’s population continue to grow older, one by one they each have to face the same challenging question: when is it time to stop driving?

Finding the unique answers that vary from person to person isn’t just important for the drivers themselves but also the public at large. According to a national study from the research group TRIP, there were 161 fatalities in Maine from car crashes on the state’s many roads and highways. Out of that total, 36 of those fatalities were in crashes involving drivers over the age of 65.

Last fall in Old Town the issue also came back into major focus after yet another elderly driver was stopped by police for going the wrong way on I-95. That incident, which ended without a crash, was one where the driver went against interstate traffic for 10 miles prompting dozens of phone calls to 9-1-1.

“The reason why senior driving is so difficult to grapple with.. is it’s very subjective,” said Maine secretary of state Matt Dunlap, “you can’t come up with a blanket policy that affects everybody. No two senior drivers are exactly alike..they don’t have the same issues or even if they have the same issues..they have them to different degrees.”

According to the secretary, re-testing procedures for elderly drivers in Maine has not changed much over the years. Under current state law, all drivers have to have an eye exam with every license renewal beginning after age 62. When they reach 65, the renewal period for a license then drops from every six years to every four years.

“So that’s often what we’re limited to at this juncture,” he said, “people often ask about proposals for mandatory road tests at a certain age and the reality is that we’re not equipped to do that. We {the state bureau of motor vehicles} do tens of thousands of road tests now for new drivers..and there’s commercial, Class C…bus licenses. We have all we can manage right now on the traffic for road tests.”

While screening procedures haven’t changed, neither has extra protocol for catching aging drivers who may be impaired. Erratic drivers of any age can become the subject of reports made by police or by medical doctors. Officials with the Maine State Police say in most cases when those adverse reports get filed, a driver either has to be re-tested for their license or risk losing it.

“Doing an adverse report is a very difficult step to take,” said Lt. Colonel Raymond Bassette, “but if someone has been giving indications that they’re struggling with their driving…an adverse report does give a tool.”

“We all have to retire from driving on average about 6 to 10 years before we kick the bucket,” said Dr. David Onion, who specializes in geriatrics and has evaluated hundreds of older drivers over the years, “We have to plan ways to get around and socialize when that time period first comes.”

Dr. Onion currently sits on the medical advisory committee for the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles, which is currently working on ways to revise procedures for evaluating aging drivers. He say he is also looking at coordinating volunteer efforts to create more community ride programs for those Mainers who decide to park their cars for good.

“And they’re struggling,” Onion said, “The more rural they are..the more difficulties they have getting to everything they care about. Maine’s a very rural state…one of the most rural states east of the Mississippi and a lot of people live there…and you got to have a car to get around or you got to have family who will drive you and that’s increasingly difficult.”


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