Critics of senior drivers argue that saftey is a concern, while supporters applaud them for staying mobile and independent. Whichever side you’re on, trends show that their population as drivers isn’t declining, it’s blossoming.
Seniors are the fastest-growing population of drivers, with current estimates projecting that a quarter of all drivers will be over 65 by 2025, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports.
The first wave of the Baby Boom generation turned 65 in 2011, and the number of senior drivers started to grow several years before that. In 2009, there were 33 million licensed drivers age 65 or older, a 23 percent increase from a decade earlier, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
“Because of good nutrition, improved health care, better education and higher incomes, new generations of older Americans will be more mobile, healthy and active for a longer portion of their lives than those just a few decades ago,” the 2012 TRIP, national transportation research group, report, “Keeping Baby Boomers Mobile: Preserving the Mobility and Safety for Older Americans,” stated.
Seniors fatal accident rate disproportionately high
While fatal traffic accidents have fallen to record lows in recent years, older drivers still make up a disproportionately high share of those involved.
Certain situations or conditions could make driving especially challenging or hazardous for this growing group of drivers, according to the TRIP report. Eyesight, reaction time, cognitive ability and muscle dexterity may deteriorate as people age. Also, physical frailty or medical issues may make seniors more susceptible to serious injury if they are involved in an accident.
The TRIP report recommended safety measures be put in place such as signage with larger lettering, brighter street lighting at intersections, and rumble strips to warn motorists when they are leaving the roadway. It also showed that many seniors self-regulate their driving as they age. They report traveling only familiar routes during daylight hours, avoiding left-hand turns and sticking to less complex roads.
Florida dangerous for senior drivers
The Sunshine state had the most drivers age 65 and older killed in traffic accidents in 2010, the TRIP study shows. With 503 crashes involving at least one senior driver in Florida, 271 were killed.
This fatal crash rate is high in Florida in part because our state has the second highest population of licensed senior drivers. Our state is home to 2.7 million licensed senior drivers, about 20 percent of the state’s total licensed drivers. However, the TRIP report did not answer why California, which has even more licensed seniors, had a lower accident rate than Florida. In a 2012 SunSentinel report, Matthew Ubben, president of Floridians for Better Transportation, a safe highways advocacy group, said that Florida’s seniors might drive more. Fran Carlin-Rogers, an Orlando senior transportation consultant, said that California had been spending a lot on updating its highways and had instituted a tiered licensing system for older drivers. “But how that might play into these crash statistics, I can’t guess,” she said.
Making the road safer
Many states require more stringent and frequent testing and license renewal policies for older drivers. Additional licensing requirements exist in 28 states and the District of Columbia. Florida has an accelerated renewal cycle of 6 years for people 80 and older, who must pass a vision test. The TRIP report points out that some research suggests that age-based mandatory assessment programs may not effectively identify and manage the small portion of older motorists whose driving should be limited or stopped, and may instead prematurely curtail the mobility of some drivers unnecessarily. Still, all too often families don’t notice a problem until their loved one has been in a few near or close misses.
So when is it time to give up the car keys? Age is not the determining factor, but health issues that affect three key aspects of driving: visual, mental and physical, such as loss of vision or decline in dexterity or cognition may be a reason to adjust if not eliminate driving depending on severity of the condition. According to Aging Parents and Elder Care, seniors may also experience difficulty driving due to drowsiness from medications or lower tolerance for alcohol. Some signs of driving ability declining:
- Drive at inappropriate speeds, either too fast or too slow?
- Ask passengers to help check if it is clear to pass or turn?
- Respond slowly to or not notice pedestrians, bicyclists and other drivers?
For a full checklist, click here.
Alternatively, AARP offers an online seminar about how you know when it’s time for your loved one to limit or stop driving: http://www.aarp.org/home-garden/transportation/we_need_to_talk/
If you or someone you know has been seriously injured in an accident, please contact us.