We are often asked a version of “how do I tell my elderly family member that they shouldn’t be driving?”  Occasionally, clients ask whether they can anonymously report a loved one or a neighbor as an inappropriate or unsafe driver.  Determining how to navigate both the emotional and safety issues with loved ones can be daunting.  While there is no clear cut factor to look at, there are resources available to help.

Assessing whether the person is a safe driver

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (“PennDOT”) has a publication called Helping Older Drivers Stay Safe:  A Guide for Family & Friends.  In the guide are helpful signs of what to use to assess driving ability such as driving skills, changes in vision, decline in hearing, slowing of mental functions, and the impact of health issues or medications.   There are also suggested questions to help with assessment:

  • Do you feel less comfortable driving now than you did five years ago?
  • Have you had more near-accidents in the last year or so?
  • Do intersections bother you because of all of the cars and activity in several directions?
  • Is it harder to judge the distance and speed of cars when you merge into traffic?
  • Is night driving more difficult because of glare and blurred vision?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” a driver refresher course or a discussion with the physician is appropriate.  There may be simple interim accommodations that are effective, like planning errands during daylight hours, and avoiding heavy traffic periods.

Pennsylvania medical reporting

The physician is often the person to identify a potential driving issue.  The Pennsylvania Vehicle Code requires that all physicians and authorized diagnosticians must report to PennDOT any patient 15 years of age or older, who has been diagnosed with a condition that could impair ability to safely operate a vehicle.  The report is confidential and must be made within 10 days of the diagnosis.  PennDOT cannot divulge the source or content of the report, even to the patient.  HIPAA regulations do not apply to medical reporting to PennDOT.

PennDOT random review

Each month, PennDOT randomly selects drivers over the age of 45 for retesting seven months prior to the date of that person’s driver’s license renewal.  Vision and physical examinations are part of the process.  The examinations can be conducted at any PennDOT Driver’s License Center at no charge or by a health care provider.  If the medical examination results warrant, the driver may have to successfully complete a driver’s examination.

Report to PennDOT

If you decide you must report the person, you may write a letter to PennDOT and mail it to Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, P.O. Box 68682, Harrisburg, PA 17106-8682.  PennDOT does not accept anonymous reports.  Upon receipt of the letter, PennDOT will investigate. These reports are confidential and used only to determine qualifications to drive.  Only when a driver’s license is not renewed, recalled, or suspended and the driver appeals, may the identity of the reporter be revealed as part of open court proceedings.

Emotional impact of losing ability to drive

Driving is one of the life skills that is critical to maintaining independence.  Losing the ability to drive often means fewer social interactions on top of feeling like a burden when asking for help or rides.  Anger and sadness are both to be expected.  If possible, a gradual modification rather than abrupt loss of privilege may help lessen the sting.  There are older driver safety tips that may assist in the discussions. The earlier that you begin these conversations with your loved ones, and the more open you are to your loved ones discussing this with you, the better the end result.

For more information and a first person viewpoint read What to do When Dad should no longer be driving.


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