Elderly drivers: When should they give up the keys?

Published: Feb. 21, 2019 at 12:53 PM EST
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February 21, 2019

NEW YORK (CBS) -- New research in the New England Journal of Medicine is adding to the growing conversation about when older drivers should consider handing over the keys to the car. More than 41 million drivers over the age of 65 are on the road today.

86-year-old Joan Mastrianni has been driving around Albany, New York since the Eisenhower administration -- when she was in her early 20's.

While she still hits the road with her 89-year-old husband Anthony to run simple errands, it worries daughter Kathy and her siblings. They wonder if mom should lock the keys away.

"You don't want to wait until an accident to make that decision," Kathleen Powers says. "You want to be able to make that decision on your own."

But Joan Mastrianni says, "We're not going that far, but to be able to go to the library and to church and the grocery store is important."

Deciding when to give up the keys is a personal matter that experts say should not be taken lightly.

Dr. Louise Aronson, a geriatrician, says, "When we get a driver's license, it's considered a big part of becoming an adult. So losing your driver's license feels like the opposite of that."

At a class on Long Island, senior citizens like Lois and Murray Schnipper are brushing up on their skills.

The educational course gives them a refresher on the rules of the road -- like stopping for three seconds, checking the shoulder and keeping their eyes on the road.

"We sort of warn each other about certain things now. Like I say, 'Lois, you shouldn't be talking with your hands while you're driving!'" Murray says with a laugh.

But could taking away the keys away from someone who is older be detrimental to the health of someone?

Dr. Aronson says, "It's absolutely detrimental, and that's proven. It decreases ability to get to work, to have fulfilling social lives. Older adults who are socially isolated have huge health risks."

The Mastriannis don't want to give up driving just yet, but they do have a back-up plan for when they put the car in park for good.

"We have Uber around here and all, if we have to ultimately do that," Anthony says.

When it's time to talk to a loved one about possibly giving up their keys, here are a few tips: check if permanent medical conditions are preventing them from safely driving, such as dementia, have them take a driving test, or enroll them in driver safety courses.