Do Elderly Drivers Make Bad Drivers?

 

A large perception about elderly people and their driving competency certainly exists, but how accurate is this perception? Are drivers over the age of 60 too risky to be on the road? How about these “past their prime” drivers in comparison to teenage drivers? In the following article, the latest statistical research and evidence will show the underlying misconceptions about elderly drivers, and where their abilities actually lie.

The Importance of Elderly Driver Research

Perhaps the greatest point of significance for determining the aptitude of older drivers is one simple fact: there is an ever increasing amount of them. According to a recent US Department of Transportation report,

Since 2003, the population of older adults, defined as age 65 and older, has increased by 20 percent and the number of licensed older drivers increased by 21 percent, to 35 million licensed older drivers in 2012.

Thus, all drivers need to be aware of these drivers and of how to ensure safety for their older relatives as well as their own safety when navigating roads. Some US states have implemented accountability laws for elderly drivers through the renewing of drivers’ licenses. For example, Utah has a mandatory vision test for drivers 65 or older when renewing licenses, but does not employ “retesting” (such as a road test, similar to those performed by 1st-time drivers) as do other states.

Aging: How Exactly Does it Affect Driving?

The aging process for adults includes the gradual slowing of cognitive, physical, and sensory functions. The decay does not occur suddenly and does not affect all elderly drivers at the same rate. Some of the greatest detriments to driving comes as elderly drivers experience a growth in contrast sensitivity, glare sensitivity, and visual acuity. These issues often result in impaired driving abilities, such as difficulty deciphering road signs. However, these processes usually take place much later and more gradually than most normally suspect. According to a recent CGA report:

Some people do not experience any appreciable declines until they are very old and most elderly people learn to adjust to the limitations these changes bring about. (Alicandri, Robinson, and Penney, Designing Highways with Older Drivers in Mind, p. 1)

Contrary to popular misconceptions, elderly drivers are actually excellent at adapting their driving to accommodate for slower sensory perception and partially-impaired visual acuity. With decades of experience, older drivers on the whole know their limitations and are safer in many respects than many other age groups. Elderly drivers also drive the least amount of any age group, and thus take fewer trips and manage trips well. The following data will show their accident rates in the context with other age groups.

Accident Rates

elderly driving stats

When involved in a 2-car accident, an elderly person is 3 times more likely to be the one struck (meaning they are far less likely to have caused the accident). The graph at the right shows the decline in accident rates per 1000 driver’s license holders per age groups. Teenagers and new, youthful drivers are by far the most likely to be involved in accidents. Generally, as experience increases, the risk of collision decreases. Even for 70 and 80-year-olds, the accident rate continues to decline. One large factor behind the data for elderly drivers continues to be the fact that drivers over the age of 70 drive progressively less than do other age groups. If a per mile analysis is viewed, the accident rates are significantly higher for elderly drivers, but the overall likelihood is still very low. Another reasoning behind the low accident rate for the elderly is their extremely low alcohol consumption rate (leading to the fewest amount of DUIs of any age group).

Elderly drivers may avoid more accidents than other age groups, but when they cause a collision, the likelihood of a fatality occurring increases greatly. After the age of 64, the fatality rate increases significantly per 1000 driver’s license holders. As has been previously discussed, there are potential risks for elderly drivers which causes the necessity for some individuals to drive less or not at all over time.

Fatalities Associated with Elderly Drivers

Part of the statistic involving fatal accidents among older age groups is related to the strength and health of the victims involved. Elderly people are much more likely to actually die in car accidents than are other drivers and passengers. Where some injuries would not be life-threatening to younger accident victims, elderly motorists are often more frail and unable to survive serious injuries. Elderly motorists are also more likely to cause pedestrian accidents (having a high fatality rate) according to a recent study by the Connecticut General Assembly.

Top Types of Crashes for Elderly Motorists

The following are some of the most likely accident types for elderly automobile drivers. An especial risk area occurs at intersections, where quick judgment and impeccable visual skills and reaction speed are necessary.

  1. Turning left at intersections involving a stop sign
  2. Turning left at intersections involving a green light (no green arrow)
  3. Turning right at stop or yield signs at speeds of 40+ mph
  4. Merging onto the highway from a ramp
  5. Changing lanes on a road with 4 or more lanes

Prevention

There exists several precautionary measures that can help ensure a safer road for elderly motorists and all automobile occupants. One Michigan Professor claimed:

“The challenge is coming up with a system for identifying those drivers who are no longer safe, It’s far too expensive and potentially biased to set an age limit and say everyone must get tested.”

The following are some set features to increase safe driving for elderly motorists according to a recent AAA study:

  • larger buttons,
  • readable labels,
  • rear-backing cameras,
  • cross traffic alerts,
  • comfort,
  • ergonomics (lessening pressure on gas, pedals, etc.)

Elderly drivers themselves should always evaluate their own driving awareness and drive during daytime when it’s still light outside.

Family members can support their elder relatives by encouraging healthy, engaged lifestyle choices including exercising physically and mentally. The topic of safe driving at older ages should be brought up long before it becomes an issue.

Alternatives to driving, such as public transit, can be an effective way of minimizing the risk of an accident. However, public transit systems are not always friendly to those who are less mobile.

The following are some suitable cars for seniors according to consumer reports:

Acura RDX (2013) Mercury Sable (2008-2009)
Ford Taurus (2008-2009) Nissan Altima (2010-2012)
Honda Accord V6 (2006-2007) and Accord (2008-2012) Subaru Impreza (2012), Legacy (2010-2013), Outback (2010-2013), and Forester (2009-2012)
Hyundai Azera (2006-2011) and Genesis (2009-2012) Toyota Avalon (2005-2012), Camry (2007-2012), Highlander (2004-2012), and RAV4 (2006-2012)
Infiniti M (2006-2010) Volkswagen Tiguan (2009-2012)
Lexus RX (2006-2009)

 

According to Consumer Reports, the data on elderly drivers reported the total deaths for seniors has declined in past few years.

At Christensen & Hymas, we advocate for safe driving at all ages. The risks inherent in automobile driving should never be underestimated; people of all ages can suffer from accidents, small or serious. If you or someone you know has been a victim of another’s reckless or negligent driving, you deserve to be compensated for your pain. Feel free to call our experienced attorneys at 801-506-0800 so they can help you receive proper compensation.

Graph courtesy of CGA.gov

Ken Christensen
Partner, Founder at Christensen & Hymas
Ken Christensen is the founding partner of Christensen & Hymas. He is an avid cyclist, loves baseball, and enjoys spending time with his family in the outdoors.

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