No one rings a bell when it's time to stop driving. But the car insurance rates that plummeted when you turned 25 begin to rise again about the time you sign up for Medicare. (See “ The cheapest age for car insurance.”) You have a few fender benders, or even total your car. Your family begins to hide the keys. "There's no perfect way. None of these ways are absolute. Family will get involved to get the keys away," says Dr. David Carr, neurology professor at Washington University Medical School. "Just because your father loses his license doesn't mean he'll stop driving." You resist all hints. You don't want to lose your independence or your wheels. Anyway, you have no idea how to stop driving. Do you have to notify your motor vehicle department or your insurance agent? Do you keep your driver's license for ID purposes? Can you keep your car but not your license?
The big risk in the slow lane
There were 22.3 million licensed drivers over age 70 in 2010. Senior drivers don't drive very many miles or rack up very many speeding tickets, but they are involved in accidents at a rate that rivals teenagers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A senior may get away with one accident and avoid a hike in insurance premiums, but that's their only pass, says Penny Gusner, consumer analyst for CarInsurance.com. "If the senior driver has too many accidents within a short period of time (three within three years for instance), their insurer likely will drop them or non-renew them because they are too much of a risk now," she says. Your state may drop a big hint, too. Some won't allow drivers over 80 to renew their licenses by mail or online. In Florida, drivers over age 80 must pass vision and hearing tests before a license is renewed. In Missouri, doctors are granted civil immunity for reporting patients to the state's DMV who should be retested. (See the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's chart of state requirements for older drivers.)
The warning signs
There are definitely warning signs for family members to take action, says Julie Lee, vice president and national director of AARP Driver Safety. "Maybe your loved one is going too fast, too slow, blowing through stop signs," Lee says. “Walk around their car to see if there are any scrapes. Look at the mailbox on their property to see if they are hitting it. Are other drivers honking at your father more frequently? Does he get lost or confused when driving?"