Being a safe driver requires being alert, making good decisions, and quickly reacting to the movements of other road users. When those requirements can’t be fully met, people shouldn’t get behind the wheel. That’s why driving while impaired/intoxicated and using a cell phone while driving are against the law in Oklahoma.
However, some people experience a significant impairment in their ability to drive safely through no fault of their own due to disease. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are common age-related conditions, and they can progress slowly over the course of many years. That means that many elderly drivers get behind the wheel every day while being far less capable of handling the demands of driving than they were in the past—all without realizing their new limitations.
When elderly drivers cause car accidents through negligence, they can and should be held liable just like drivers of any other age group. But what happens if those elderly drivers are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia?
An Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia Diagnosis Doesn’t Exempt Drivers from Liability
In their most advanced stages, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are profoundly disabling and often fatal. Patients may be unaware of their surroundings and unable to recognize loved ones. However, people in the early stages of these diseases may have few symptoms and be able to live independently for years.
Oklahoma law says that drivers who are diagnosed with dementia “may be allowed to continue to drive in Oklahoma if their physician indicates that they are presently safe to drive and if they can pass the road test.” They also must be periodically tested by a doctor to determine if or how much their disease has progressed and whether it has impacted their ability to drive safely.
When drivers with only mild symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia and who have been cleared by their doctors to drive end up causing crashes, they can be held liable for any damages they cause.
Family Members and Caregivers May Be Held Liable for Crashes Caused by Patients with Advanced Dementia
As Alzheimer’s disease and dementia progress, patients may no longer be able to drive safely. When that happens, their doctors are permitted to report them to the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety (DPS) if they believe they are incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle.
In addition to reporting them to the DPS, they should also notify their caregivers and family members. Upon being notified that the person with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia is no longer capable of driving safely, the caregivers or family members are then required to prevent the patient from driving. If they fail to do so, they may instead be held liable themselves if their loved one causes a crash.
Note, however, that family members typically bear no liability if their loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia cause crashes while living full-time in caregiving facilities or under the supervision of full-time caregivers.
Tips for Preventing a Loved One with Alzheimer’s or Dementia from Driving
It can be difficult to predict the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Patients may show only mild symptoms for years and then suddenly take a turn for the worse in a matter of months or weeks. However, patients who suddenly worsen may still want independence, including the ability to drive.
It’s important for family members and caregivers to be open and honest about why the person with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia is no longer allowed to drive. Gifting their car to another family member or selling it and using the money to pay for their living expenses can reduce the risk that they get behind the wheel while also helping them cope with their lost independence.
We Handle Negligent Crashes Caused by Drivers with Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
At Parrish DeVaughn Injury Lawyers, we sympathize with both victims of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and their loved ones. These diseases are tragic and often put enormous stress on families. But we also know that once patients are ruled incapable of driving safely, they must stay off the road at all costs to protect themselves and others.
If you or someone you love was hurt in a crash caused by a driver with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or another cognitive impairment, we want to help. Depending on their diagnosis, they may be directly liable for your damages, or you may be able to get compensation for your injuries from their caregiver or family member.
Contact us today for a free consultation. Our Oklahoma car accident attorneys want to help you get maximum compensation.