Driving an automobile safely, particularly in a crowded urban area, is a complex challenge to mental processes and judgment. Dementia raises risk of accidents as much as five-fold. One study found that 3 out of 4 older persons with dementia who continued to drive were involved in an accident.
Older drivers, particularly those with memory disorders are generally cautious and careful. However, as any driver knows, a sudden event (a child running in front of the car, an object in the road forcing a quick lane change) can turn a routine trip into a disaster if the exact correct response is not made to a challenging situation.
Other concerns for persons with dementia and their families are the legal consequences should an accident occur. A person with a known memory problem is likely to be blamed for any accident, no matter who is at fault. Financial losses could be extremely high, and insurers may not cover what they view as negligence in allowing the person to drive.
The person with the memory problem often cannot understand others' concern regarding driving ability because one of the first things lost to the disease is the ability to see their own impairment. Often the driver will answer concerns with the argument that they have never had an accident. This may only indicate that other drivers have successfully stayed out of their way.
The loss of driving privileges is serious. It may threaten the independence not only of the driver but also of a couple or household, if the affected person is the primary or only driver. The spouse also may be overwhelmed by the life style changes that the loss of driving would produce and argue for the person's continued driving despite concerns about safety. Education regarding the risks and investigation into alternative options for transportation is often needed.
Coping with Driving Issues after Dementia Is Diagnosed
If driving safety is an issue, local driver's evaluation programs are available. A physician's referral is required. Medicare does NOT cover this program.
Driver's Evaluation Programs
These programs provide objective assessment of driving safety and assess general strengths and weaknesses in driving performance. Recommendations for driving restrictions may be made, but are separate from any government agency that regulate road safety. Locally, occupational therapists that are Certified Driving Rehabilitation Specialists are available through Sarasota Memorial Hospital at the following locations:
Sarasota Memorial Hospital
Drivers Re-education Program
When A Person Is Unwilling To Stop Driving
If the person with severe memory problem is unwilling to stop driving, there are steps that family members can take to get them off the road. In Florida, anyone can report the problem to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Once the report is received, a letter will be sent to the driver requesting medical clearance to drive. If the driver ignores the letter, their license is automatically suspended. The identity of the person making the report is confidential.
State of Florida Driver Safety Reporting
Anyone can make a report to the Florida Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles regarding issues of driver safety by contacting:
Department of Highway Safety
& Motor Vehicles
If a family or friend makes the report, it is sent for Administrative Review and a home visit or driving assessment may be scheduled. Drivers must cooperate with the assessment to retain driving privileges. If a medical problem exists, a form is sent to the driver that must be completed by their doctor. Failure to have the form completed results in suspension of the driver's license.
If a medical doctor makes the initial report, or fills out the requested forms, then a Board of M.D.'s meets to recommend action regarding the driver's privileges. This Board meets monthly and can recommend suspension of driving privileges or request further review (i.e. driver's test)
The process takes approximately 45 days.