Older Drivers and Car Crashes

The National Institutes of Health has a useful website that discusses older drivers and driving safety. As drivers age, their health and reaction times while driving may impact their driving skills. In addition, older drivers are more likely to be injured in a crash, especially if they are frail. The NIH data reports that seniors are less likely to be involved in accidents that involve drunk driving or speeding; they are more likely to be involved in accidents occurring in intersections or related to merging traffic.

Many states have different driver license renewal requirements for seniors. As an example, in North Carolina, drivers over the age of 65 must renew their licenses every 5 years instead of every 8. North Carolina (and most other states) requires an eye test each time the license is renewed to ensure the driver can see properly. If the DMV officer believes it appropriate, they may also require a driving test before renewing your license.

In some states, Pennsylvania and California – for example, doctors are required by law to report patients to the state Department of Motor Vehicles when it appears they may be a risk to public safety[i]. This could include patients with physical disabilities that might impair their driving or those with mental conditions such as dementia. North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee have a voluntary reporting option that medical personnel, friends or family members can use to report a potentially unsafe driver.

As the U.S. population ages, we will see more elderly drivers on our roads. Many drivers “police” themselves, restricting their driving to the daytime if they have difficulty seeing at night (“night blindness”) or avoid highways because they are not comfortable with the fast pace or volume of traffic. The NIH offers some tips for older drivers:

  • Get your eyesight and hearing checked regularly;
  • Read the warning labels on any medications you take and do not drive when the label indicates a possible issue;
  • Do not drive at night if you cannot see well in the dark;
  • Avoid driving during rush hour if you are uncomfortable with busy traffic;
  • Stay fit – physical activity can improve your range of motion while driving;
  • Take a defensive driving class;

No one wants to lose their ability to drive, as for many this means giving up their independence. If you are an older driver, take steps to keep yourself in good health so you may continue to drive safely. If you have an elderly parent or loved one who should no longer be driving, have that tough discussion with them. While they may not want to give up their ability to drive, that option is better than their being involved in a car crash because they should not be driving.

[i] http://www.ama-assn.org/ama1/pub/upload/mm/433/older-drivers-guide.pdf

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