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Legal Notes: Older Drivers-Safety and Reporting

Cha color 1Attorney Seunghee ChaAre you concerned about the driving abilities of an older driver?

Although age is not a decisive predictor of poor driving skills, the aging process can cause impaired vision and hearing, and slower reflexes.

Health care providers and law enforcement officers may voluntarily report a driver to Medical  Affairs if they have good faith, reasonable belief based on personal observations, or physical  evidence that the driver has cognitive or functional limitations to operate a motor vehicle safely.

The Medical Affairs department of the RMV sets forth minimum physical qualifications for operators of motor vehicles regardless of age, with standards for vision and medical fitness. Individuals who have a medical condition that adversely affects driving must report their condition to the RMV when renewing their driver’s license. People who are age 75 and older must renew their driver’s license in person and pass the vision screening or provide a vision screening certificate. Otherwise, Massachusetts law does not mandate anyone to report a driver suspected of unsafe driving.

Health care providers and law enforcement officers may voluntarily report a driver to Medical Affairs if they have good faith, reasonable belief based on personal observations, or physical evidence that the driver has cognitive or functional limitations to operate a motor vehicle safely. Medical Affairs then makes the determination that the driver (i) is safe to drive, (ii) needs a competency road test within 30 days, or (iii) is not medically qualified to drive and must surrender the license within 10 days. In some cases, the RMV may impose a monitoring period or restrictions, such as no night driving. Additionally, family members and other interested third parties, such as neighbors, may request a medical evaluation by submitting a form to Medical Affairs providing the reporter’s name, address, and phone number; the driver’s name and a brief reason for concern; and at least one of the following about the driver: Social Security number, license number, date of birth, or address. Reports are not anonymous: the driver can obtain a copy by written request.

Health care providers and law enforcement officers are immune from civil liability for reporting, or not reporting, a potentially unsafe driver.

To promote safe driving, hospitals and rehabilitation facilities offer driving evaluations, and various organizations offer safety programs designed for older drivers. Use of adaptive equipment, such as mirror adaptors and pedal extenders, can also assist with driving more comfortably.

Giving up driving can mean loss of independence and isolation. If you have loved ones who are declining in functional capacity, you should ride with them and carefully note their driving abilities. Be prepared for the difficult conversation and share your observations and offer helpful alternatives. When appropriate, contact the RMV to request an evaluation.