How often have you passed a slow-moving car to find out that the driver was a senior citizen? How many times have you used the phrase, “You drive like a grandma” to insult an erratic driver? It’s no surprise that many drivers feel that the older a person gets, the more annoying and dangerous he becomes on the road. However, this isn’t exactly true.
How Age Affects Driving
As we age, our bodies naturally change, making it harder and harder to accomplish daily tasks. Some of these changes directly affect the ability to drive a vehicle safely. For example, the following effects of aging can all create difficulties behind the wheel:
- Hearing loss. Hearing loss can affect an older driver’s ability to hear warning honks or signals, approaching sirens, or car maintenance issues, all of which can lead to a potential collision.
- Vision loss. Eyesight can worsen over time, making it difficult for older drivers to focus on traffic and street signs or potential dangers in the road (animals, debris). Poor sight can also keep a driver from seeing other vehicles or pedestrians within colliding distance.
- Reflex deterioration. Age and debilitating muscle conditions (arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, and others), can slow down reflexes and reaction times. Slowed reflexes make it difficult for older drivers to respond quickly to changing road conditions.
However, despite these aging effects, older drivers have more to fear from themselves and younger drivers than the other way round.
Senior Driver Accident Rates
In comparison to other age groups, 60- to 75-year-olds are statistically safer and more cautious drivers. In addition to wearing their seat belts more often than younger drivers, older drivers also tend to obey the speed limit and other laws more consistently than their younger counterparts. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), accident rates for seniors don’t significantly increase until after the age of 70.
Regarding fatalities, the increased accident rates of older drivers make them more of a threat to themselves than other drivers. In 2014, the IIHS estimated that 73 percent of people fatally injured in crashes involving drivers 70 or older were either the senior drivers themselves or their passengers. Furthermore, senior driver fatality rates are 17 times higher than those of 25- to 64-year-olds. These statistics show that, overall, whether an older driver causes an accident or not, he and his passengers (who are statistically older as well) are more likely to suffer the brunt of the consequences, not the younger driver.
Senior Accident Risks
As a result of their age, senior drivers are more likely to suffer severe and life-threatening injuries. In addition to fragile bones, drivers (and passengers) over 70 are placed at greater risk due to the following age-related conditions:
- Weaker bones and muscles. As we age, our bones begin to lose calcium and become brittle, while our muscles lose strength and flexibility. As a result, when a senior driver collides with another vehicle, the force of the collision will cause much more damage to his already fragile body than if his bones and muscles were strong.
- Medication dependence. Many seniors are dependent on blood thinning medications. These medications can not only affect a driver’s focus, but can cause an otherwise superficial wound to become life-threatening.
What the Law Has to Say About Older Drivers
There is no state law anywhere in the country that prohibits senior drivers from maintaining a license based on age alone. Therefore, if so inclined, a driver can continue getting behind the wheel well into his 70s, 80s, or even 90s. However, just because he can, doesn’t mean he should.
No matter a person’s age, when he starts to lose the ability to drive safely, he needs to begin thinking about hanging up his keys. Although it may be a frustrating realization, his safety and the safety of those around him must take top priority. Besides, public transportation and community-based van and volunteer driver programs are available in most cities to help older people remain mobile.
For more information on how to talk to your aging loved ones about their driving habits, feel free to browse our extensive collection of blogs and FAQs. If you’re in need of legal advice following an accident, whether you’re the victim of a crash caused by a senior or you’re the senior victim of an accident, call our office today. We’ll be happy to discuss your rights and provide you with the options you need for your recovery.