Dementia and Driving Liability
It is natural for a person to go through certain physical and psychological changes as part of the aging process. This can include worsening eyesight, slowed reaction time, poor night vision, and in some cases a decline in cognitive ability.
As you notice these changes in your loved ones as they age, you may become concerned about their continuing ability to drive. No one wants to have to take the keys away from a friend or family member, but this may be the best option to ensure not only their safety, but the safety of others on the road as well.
But what if you cannot bring yourself to separate your loved one from their car, or if you do not realize the severity of a loved one’s physical or cognitive impairments and they get into an accident?
Generally, you are not liable if your elderly relative or friend gets into or causes an automobile accident, as long as they were not driving a car titled to you at the time. This is true even if:
1. you support that person financially (e.g., they live with you, you pay for their car insurance, etc.); and
2. you know that the person really shouldn’t be on the road (you may feel you have a moral obligation to do so, but there is no legal obligation).
The NJ MVC has a Medical Review Unit to which dangerous or high-risk drivers can be reported. However, NJSA 39:3-10.4 only requires that drivers with epilepsy or recurrent periods of unconsciousness be reported. There is no specific requirement for the reporting of mental impairments, such as dementia.
You can find more information about elderly individuals—particularly those with dementia—and driving here.