Considerations Before Allowing Elderly Parents Behind The Wheel

elderly parent behind the wheel

As an adult child you may be concerned about your elderly parents behind the wheel. Your primary worry may be about your parents’ safety – and the safety of others they encounter on or near the road.

However, you may also have concerns about liability issues that can arise from an elderly parent’s car accident. Here, we take a closer look at these important issues.

Elderly People Face a Higher Risk

Not every older American presents a safety risk on the road. However, as a group, elderly drivers clearly have a higher rate of auto accidents than drivers in other age groups.

Currently, more than 35 million drivers on the road are age 65 and older. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that, starting at age 70, these drivers face a substantial increase in their risk of being involved in a deadly accident per every vehicle mile they travel.

This high fatality rate is due to the fact that elderly drivers simply are more likely to be involved in a crash. This is due to factors such as:

  • Use of medication which can cause drowsiness
  • Diminished eyesight, including loss of direct and peripheral vision
  • Reduced mental and physical reaction time.

If an elderly person gets into a crash, their fragile physical condition can make him or her more susceptible to fatal injuries. Or, fatal complications from severe injuries such as infections.

Non-Driver Liability

Generally speaking, non-drivers can be held liable for a car accident in certain states only if it occurs in one of their vehicles. Liability is based on the theory of “negligent entrustment.”

Under this theory, a person can be liable for injuries that result from allowing an unreliable party to use an inherently risky device that the person owns such as an automobile.

In most car accident cases that involve negligent entrustment, the driver is a teen, and the party subject to liability is a parent who owns the car.

For example, in Bankert v. Threshermen’s Mutual Ins. Co., a 15-year-old boy suffered injuries when he was riding as a passenger on his teenage friend’s motorcycle. The boy sought to recover damages from the friend’s parents.

The Supreme Court in that state held that the parents could be liable if they:

  • Voluntarily gave control of the motorcycle to another person
  • Knew or reasonably should have known that their entrustment of the motorcycle to the other person created an unreasonable safety risk.

This same theory of liability can be applied to cases involving an elderly parent. If you give the keys of your car to an elderly parent, and you know or you should know that the parent is an unsafe driver, you could possibly be held responsible for their actions.

Insurance Considerations

Determining exactly which kind of insurance is right for you or for your parent will always require a personalized review.

A few helpful tips to keep in mind when purchasing insurance include:

  • Review your situation to determine your unique insurance needs.
  • Carefully read all of the details of the auto insurance policy you are considering (or one which you have already purchased).
  • Review the claims record of any prospective insurance company.
  • Engage in comparison shopping so you find the best option and price.

Protecting Yourself

One of the best ways to protect yourself from dealing with auto accident issues is to check on your elderly parent’s condition. Is it safe for your parent to drive?

Ask your parent to visit the doctor. After conducting a thorough physical and mental health examination, a doctor can assess your parent’s suitability for the road.

If your parent cannot drive safely, you will need to have an open discussion about his or her limits. This is never an easy topic. However, it is extremely important to have this conversation.

Even if your parent is still able to drive, you may need to talk with them. Discuss placing restrictions on his or her time behind the wheel. These limits may include sticking to short trips, driving only during the daytime and avoiding driving during poor weather conditions such as rain or snow.

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