When people learn that any of our team members work with Panama City car accident victims, they often share their thoughts about safe driving. It isn't uncommon to hear people complain about the tendencies of teen drivers and question whether or not graduated licensing is the answer. Teen drivers are certainly a concern – they have limited experience behind the wheel and they have a reputation, although it certainly does not apply to each individual teen, for being careless and easily distracted by friends, music, or social media. However, our Panama City accident attorney understands that teens are not the only group that is involved in a disproportionate number of accidents. Although it is a harder conversation to have, older drivers are also a concern.
Discussing the issue of older drivers in Panama City, the News Herald reported on two recent automobile crashes involving senior drivers that claimed lives in our region. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, 87-year-old Hazel Dill was driving southbound in the northbound lane of U.S. 231 on Saturday November 3. Dill's wrong-way car ran into a vehicle driven by Kayla Ingerman, age 23. Both died in the head-on collision. In October, another accident claimed the life of 70-year-old Kenneth Reid Yates of Panama City when his car collided with two parked vehicles before crashing into the Landmark construction office located at 13220 Back Beach Road.
As the News Herald piece noted, authorities have increasingly expressed concern about the safety of senior citizen drivers. Research by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration ("NHTSA") confirms that age-related functional declines can impact driver performance and lead to an increased risk of crashes among older drivers. The study found that crash and fatality statistics held average for drivers age 69 and under, but drivers age 70 and above were overrepresented in both arenas. Looking at specific figures, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported that 3,115 teenagers died in motor vehicle accidents in 2010. That same year, automobile accidents claimed the lives of 4,139 people aged 70 and older.
Bob Gitchell is an instructor for a local AARP Driver Safety Program Class. He pointed to three primary functions that must function properly in order to ensure any driver is safe behind the wheel: Vision; Hearing; and Flexibility. All of these functions tend to diminish with age, leading to added concerns about the safety of older drivers. However, Gitchell emphasizes that age isn't the sole safety factor, noting he's worked with some terrible drivers in their 50s and 60s as well as good drivers in their 90s.
Often, keeping senior drivers safe requires a family effort. In many cases, adult children find they need to speak to a parent about relinquishing a driver's license. This can be a difficult conversation since it means admitting that time has dulled some skills, something that can be hard for the individual to realize on his or her own. Handing in a license can also feel like giving up a piece of independence. However, admitting one's own limitations or confronting a loved one about changes you've witnessed can keep both the individual and others on the road safe. For those who feel they can still drive safely but who could use a refresher, classes like those taught by Gitchell can help keep drivers safe.
If you have been hurt in a car accident, please call our Panama City injury attorney. It can feel a bit harder to bring a suit against an elderly driver, but the age of the defendant shouldn't keep a victim from seeking the full and fair compensation allowed by Florida law.