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Think senior drivers are a danger on the road and need to hang up the keys?

Nanette Schieke, Chief Driver Safety, Maryland MVA works with law enforcement and health care professionals to help implement solutions to improve older driver safety.
Nanette Schieke, Chief Driver Safety, Maryland MVA works with law enforcement and health care professionals to help implement solutions to improve older driver safety.
J. Anthony Burke

Have you ever watched a senior driver who appears to be weaving a bit too much, driving too slowly backing up traffic or witnessed any number of other incidents that may have you wondering if that senior should be driving at all?

Don’t be too quick to judge that senior driver because in fact some studies indicate that “drivers over 65 don’t pose a significant public safety risk when compared to other age segments”. This was a finding in an Interim Report prepared by the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA). The data showed older drivers accounted for only seven percent of all drivers involved in crashes compared to drivers 16-24 who made up 23% of those involved in crashes.

It is however reasonable to expect that as people age their reflexes slow down, their eyesight and hearing begin to fail, they may be on more medications, which could affect their driving and they tend to develop other medical issues that could impair their ability to drive safely. But do they deserve an opportunity to continue to drive as long as they are physically and mentally able?

Coming to the rescue of those senior drivers in Maryland is the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) and the Older Driver Safety Program with Nanette Schieke as the Chief of the department which is part of the Driver Wellness and Safety Division of the MVA.

The Older Driver Safety Program was born out of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) guidelines. The MVA uses the best practices recommended by NHTSA for the Older Driver Safety Program and in fact “Maryland’s program is a model for other states”, said Schieke.

Under the program, Shieke said, “Educating the public is of paramount importance” and working with key groups such as the Chiefs of Police Association is integral to the success of the program. NHTSA has also suggested that MVA help educate health care professionals as well as law enforcement officials about how the program works.

“Social workers are most likely to have personal contact with seniors and we are trying to reach out to them this year, because there is a huge need for these professionals to know about the program”, said Shieke.

The perception Shieke wants for the department is that they are developing ways to allow seniors to continue to drive safely. “The program is not designed to take seniors off the road,” she noted and that “The goal is to ensure the safe driving of older drivers”, said Shieke.

Some of the ways they are promoting the value of the program is through symposiums which they held in 2012 and 2013. Healthcare professionals, law enforcement and others who wanted to learn about the elements of the program participated in those meetings.

According to Schieke, anyone can refer a senior to the Older Driver Safety Program either with or without the knowledge of the senior. Typically though law enforcement is the referring party to the MVA and the Older Driver Safety Program.

The law enforcement officer uses a check list when they stop a senior driver that gives them guidance in looking for red flags. Examples are that they might observe a driver has trouble communicating, appears confused when following instructions or has difficulty producing an ID, etc. Other check-off indicators for the officer are that they observe the driver has vision problems, or is not controlling their vehicle or they are driving on the wrong side of the road.

Shieke said the department has designed an electronic means for the officer to refer that driver to the program. At that point the referral goes to the Driver Wellness & Safety Division where staff nurses review it. They then send out a questionnaire to the older driver to learn more about them in order to be able to make an informed decision as to what they can offer that driver to help them become a safer driver. Learn more by visiting MVA.