Are Elderly/Senior Drivers a Danger On the Road?

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Today, nearly 20 percent of all motorists are elderly drivers and according to the Federal Highway Administration, there are as many as 21.6 million licensed drivers are 70 years old and above in 2008.

While elderly drivers are less likely to crash than teenagers, statistics from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) show that older drivers are a danger mostly to themselves and their passengers. It was reported by the IIHS that 74 percent of people killed in crashes involving a driver 70 or older were either the older driver themselves (61 percent) or their older passengers (13 percent) in 2009.

Also, while elderly drivers kill fewer pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, or occupants of other vehicles than drivers aged 30-59 years old, drivers 70 and older had higher liability claims for damage to other vehicles. The reason for this is because drivers aged 70-79 were more likely to see another vehicle but misjudge their timing to proceed and on the other hand, drivers 80 and older predominantly failed to see the other vehicle. This is also the reason why elderly drivers are more likely to be involved in certain types of crashes like intersection collisions and angle crashes.

So what makes senior drivers a potential road safety problem? Age-related changes that can affect their driving ability is a large factor in motor vehicle accidents involving elderly drivers. While age is not the sole determining factor for driving ability, it is undeniable that certain skills such as physical (ex. slower motor reflexes), cognitive (ex. bad judgment in making turns), and visual abilities (poor eyesight) may decline with age. Further, senior drivers also take more medication so this may also impair their driving ability as some drugs can cause drowsiness.

At this point, it is up to the family or friends of an elderly driver to be vigilant about their loved one’s continued ability to drive safely. If you have an elderly parent or a grandparent who is still driving around, here are some signs to look out for in gauging whether or not he/she can still drive safely:

  • The elderly driver has difficulty turning to see when backing up
  • He/she is more likely to hit curbs or hit the car against mailboxes or the garage
  • The driver fails to notice traffic signs or important activity on the road
  • Is likely to make bad judgment when making left turns or experiences trouble navigating turns
  • Shows increased agitation or irritation when driving
  • Has a delayed reaction/response to unexpected situations
  • May get lost even in familiar places or be confused at exits

If 2 or more of these signs are present, it is time to intervene. While most elderly drivers would resent giving up their driving independence, you should let them understand you only want them to be safe. You can also offer options that would allow them to still be mobile such as car pooling, taking public transportation, or other modes of transit that can decrease their risk of getting involved in a car accident.