Seniors and Licensing Laws - Consumer Justice Foundation

Seniors and Licensing Laws

Written by Faith Anderson on September 17, 2012
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Older Driver Safety a Growing Problem

Although the potential risks posed by older drivers on U.S. roadways have been a point of concern for quite a while, the issue garnered new attention when a 100-year-old driver in California backed over a group of school children late last month. Accidents like these aren’t all that common in the United States, but with the expected surge in older drivers hitting the road, the federal government has recommended that all states work to address what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration refers to as “the real and growing problem of older driver safety.”

While it’s easy to pin high-risk driving on the age of older drivers, Joseph Coughlin, head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab, says, “Birthdays don’t kill. Health conditions do.” He points out that older drivers who are in good health aren’t necessarily less safe than younger drivers, just because of their age. It’s because many older people suffer from health issues that can affect their driving ability, including dementia and arthritis, that they may be at a greater risk of unsafe driving. Even slower reflexes and the use of multiple medications among older Americans can impair their driving, but there is no easy screening tool that licensing authorities can use to identify drivers with subtle health risks. As a result, some states use birthdays as a marker for additional scrutiny.

Seniors Have Highest Rate of Deadly Accidents Per Mile

Although fatal accidents involving seniors have declined over the past ten years, perhaps because they are staying healthier or because roads and cars are safer than they used to be, the oldest drivers (age 85 and up) still have the highest rate of fatal collisions per mile, higher even than teens. Because nearly 34 million drivers today are 65 and older, and because federal estimates indicate that there will be about 57 million senior drivers by 2030, specialists say steps need to be taken by state licensing authorities and seniors themselves to keep U.S. roadways safe. This summer, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed a nationwide guideline for older driver safety that would push states to become more consistent if it garners approval.

In a country whose main focus lately has been on teen drivers and high-risk behaviors like texting behind the wheel, statistics show that older drivers may actually pose the highest risk on the road. According to the National Institutes of Health, instead of speeding and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, older drivers are at risk for problems with making left turns, intersections, and merging or changing lanes, because of declines in reaction time, vision and other problems. “You should be looking at your drivers to be sure they’re able to safely drive,” said Susan Cohen, an advocate of older driver requirements currently urging officials in Maryland to add a competency screening to license renewals for seniors. “There’s plenty of research that as we age, things do change and we may not be aware of those changes.”

Reducing the Risk of Accidents Involving Seniors

By implementing safe driving requirements for older drivers in the United States, state lawmakers may be able to reduce the risk of car accidents caused by seniors who have difficulties with vision, reaction time, or whose driving ability is otherwise impaired. In Florida, for example, a study found that highway deaths among the state’s older drivers dropped 17% after a new vision test was mandated in 2003 for drivers 80 and older renewing their licenses. According to Coughlin however, “the only way you can assess any driver at any age is to sit in the seat next to them and watch them drive.” If you have been injured in a car accident caused by an elderly driver, or if you lost a loved one in such an accident, contact an experienced car accident attorney to discuss your compensation options.

Posted Under: United States
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