Help to Keep Unsafe Drivers Off the Road

By Barbara Coenson
Attorney at Law

You may remember the national news story about the 87-year-old man who drove his car into a farmer’s market at 60 mph killing 10 people. Just this month, an 83-year-old man was caught on tape driving the wrong way down a high-speed freeway causing a four-car pileup. These news reports, along with many other similar stories, are a wakeup call for many adults concerned about their aging parent’s ability to drive safely.

Each year in the U.S. over 600,000 elderly people stop driving because of a decline in vision, hearing, physical mobility or cognitive skills; but not all of these drivers relinquish their keys willingly. So what can you do if you have doubts about a loved one’s ability to drive safely?

Safety on the Roads

Talking to your loved one about your concern for his or her safety is the best way to convince an impaired driver to stop driving. If you are unable to convince your loved one to stop driving, then you can try stopgap measures such as hiding keys or disabling the vehicle. But, often times, spare keys or a call to the AAA motor club can easily help your loved one to get back on the road.

Enlisting the help of a physician may prove successful; however there is no guarantee that your loved one will comply with the doctor’s warning to stay off the road. Removing the vehicle will prevent a loved one from driving, but such drastic measures may create deep ill will between family members or friends.

If all else fails, Florida law provides a way for you to report an unsafe driver to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. The law provides that “Any physician, person, or agency having knowledge of any licensed driver’s mental or physical disability to drive…. is authorized to report such knowledge to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.” The report triggers an investigation of the driver, which may include interviews of family members, neighbors, and the driver’s physician. If the investigation reveals possible impairment or safety issues, then the state may require the driver to submit to a driving test to assess the driver’s ability. An assessment by the state may just be the influence you need to keep your loved one off the road. The report is confidential and cannot be submitted as evidence in any court proceeding.

Liability on the Roads

If you are uncertain as to whether you should take action to keep your loved one from driving, or at minimum have his or her driving ability professionally tested, then consider whether you may be liable for your loved one’s driving mishaps.

Often at-risk drivers transfer ownership of their vehicles because they cannot obtain their own insurance or they are trying to qualify for a public benefit such as Medicaid. Under Florida law, if you knowingly permit your impaired loved one to drive your vehicle and your loved one injures someone while driving, then you may be liable for the injury.

Furthermore, if your loved one causes a serious car accident, you may be the subject of the lawsuit depending on the type and amount of control you exercise over the day to day activities of your loved one such as writing checks, grocery shopping, talking to family, friends and physicians about health issues, understanding of at risk conditions and driving impairment; or if you have established a contractual relationship by way of a personal services agreement, insurance family agreement, or powers of attorney. While these theories are grey areas in Florida law, the possibility exists especially in a case where your loved one has little or no assets while you have accumulated wealth.

The number of elderly drivers populating the roads is growing. While not all elderly drivers are unsafe drivers, some are a risk to public safety. If you believe your loved one’s ability to drive safely has diminished then take the steps to convince him or her to stop driving or be tested. If necessary, use the Florida law to report your loved one as an unsafe driver. Taking such action may save a life.

By Barbara Coenson, Attorney at Law, 2011

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