Older drivers at risk on the roads

A recent car accident involving a very elderly man backing his car into a crowd of people, seriously injuring 4 children, has put a national spotlight on the issue of elderly drivers.

By 2030, nearly 20% of the drivers on the road will be over the age of 65. Driver’s problems begin when cognitive or physical abilities start to decline; at 65, a driver’s risk of being involved in a motor vehicle accident starts to go up.

After 75, the likelihood of fatality increases sharply.

By the age of 80, drivers are in more than five times as many fatal car crashes as middle-­aged drivers.

Worse, elderly drivers are more likely to be involved in multi-vehicle accidents, particularly at intersections. And when a crash happens, their relative fragility puts them more at risk for serious injuries or death.

According to Consumer Reports, the biggest factors in older-driver motor vehicle accidents include:

  • Poor judgment in making left  turns
  • Drifting within a lane of traffic
  • Decreasing ability to drive defensively

The aging population of drivers is going to create a lot of new problems on the road in the next few decades; yet, not much is being done to address this impending wave of elderly drivers. Currently, only about half of the states have special provisions for renewing licenses of older or elderly drivers – although it’s been proven that vision screening for elderly drivers reduces fatality rates. In Oregon, a driver’s license is renewed every 8 years, and vision screening is required for drivers 50 years and older. In Washington, licenses are up for renewal every 5 years, with no vision screening.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has additional recommendations for older drivers. If you are concerned about the driving habits of an elderly person in your life, this AARP seminar can help you determine when it’s time to stop driving. Finally, AAA has a cognitive skills test for older drivers.