As we advance in age, we start to lose some of our mental and physical acuity. We experience vision, hearing and cognitive losses. But, people experience such changes at different times, and they may be gradual.
While many seniors continue to drive safely into their 80’s, there’s growing concern that older drivers present disproportionate dangers on the road. The NHTSA claims that there are nearly 34 million U.S. drivers who are 65 or older. By 2030, that number is expected to grow to about 57 million, representing about one-quarter of all licensed drivers on the roadways. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is urging all states to address what it describes as the “real and growing problem of older driver safety.”
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the likelihood of being in a fatal car wreck increases significantly after age 70. And a study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that, on a per mile basis, the death rate of drivers age 85 and older is nearly triple the rate of 16- and 17-year-old drivers. It’s nearly twenty times that of drivers in their 50’s.
In addition to a natural deterioration of the senses, many elderly people take multiple prescribed medicines, which may impair their ability to drive safely. Some of our elderly friends and relatives may experience confusion, disorientation and even dementia.
All things considered, many people believe that elderly drivers pose too much risk to themselves and other drivers and that their driving privileges should be curbed past a certain age. Others say more frequent license renewal tests should be required for senior citizens. Yet, it’s a sensitive subject.
Most of us with aging parents or grandparents feel awkward suggesting that they hand over their keys. For many senior citizens, driving is a precious symbol of their independence and they don’t want to give it up.
Resources exist to help older drivers continue to be good drivers. The AARP, for example, offers safety tips and an on-line driver test on its website.
To their credit, most senior drivers recognize their limitations and willingly cut back their driving. In fact, an estimated 60 percent say they avoid driving at night, on the interstates and in bad weather.
Driving Laws vary from state to state
Thirty states and the District of Columbia have some licensing requirements specific to older drivers, ranging from more frequent vision testing to requiring that seniors renew their licenses more often than younger drivers. Those ages vary from state to state.
For example, Maryland starts vision tests at age 40, while it’s 65 or 70 in some states. More frequent renewals start at age 85 in Texas and 59 in Georgia.
There are many who think the requirements don’t go far enough and that older drivers should be tested for cognitive and physical abilities, as well as hearing and vision. Others don’t think the elderly should drive at all. Those voices get raised whenever an accident involving an older driver makes the national media, like last August when a 100-year-old man in Los Angeles crossed over a sidewalk in his Cadillac and injured 11 people, including nine children, near an elementary school.
But, whether we like it or not, we share the road with older drivers. And we will be for a long time. Baby boomers are expected to keep their licenses longer than previous generations and drive more miles.