People often remark on teen drivers and the dangerous combination of risk-taking behaviors combined with inexperience. It is only in more recent years that attention has shifted to the other end of the age spectrum and the concerns associated with older drivers. We believe it is important to be aware of the risks involved with aging drivers in order to help keep everyone safer on the roads. We also believe it is important to remember that those injured in car accidents have a right to seek legal damages regardless of the age of the potential defendant
WJGH recently reported on a study on attitudes about aging drivers conducted by professors at Florida State University's Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy. Researchers surveyed drivers age 50 and older and found that neither families nor medical professionals tended to broach the topic of giving up the keys as they aged. In fact, a mere 5% of the participants had ever had a discussion with their doctor about their continued ability to drive.
Perhaps the lack of discussion contributes to the fact that only 13% of the surveyed individuals had begun to plan for a time when they could not drive safely. John Reynolds, the Pepper Institute's Director, seemed particularly concerned by a third statistic - the fact that 71% of respondents were not interested in receiving information on the impact of aging on driving ability. He expressed a need to create a shift in attitudes to prevent drivers from only considering the issue after a tragic accident occurred.
As the population ages, the number of older drivers is also increasing. According to a Fact Sheet from the Center for Disease Control ("CDC"), there were 33 million licensed drivers in the United States in 2009, a 23% increase from the number a decade earlier. The same fact sheet noted that 5,500 older adults died and 183,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes in 2008, for an average of 15 deaths and 500 injuries to seniors in motor vehicle crashes per day. There is also a notable increase in fatality rates starting at age 75 and an even more substantial risk for those over age 80.
Focusing more specifically on the potential impact of aging on driving ability (vs. increased risk of harm discussed the CDC), the National Institute on Aging offers a webpage directed towards seniors. While noting that age alone doesn't make someone a bad driver, the page lists different categories of issues that may impair driving ability including one's: Body (joints/muscles); Vision; Hearing; Reaction time; Overall health; and Medications.
Older individuals should regularly evaluate their own health and take an honest look at how safe they are behind the wheel. Families and friends should help encourage this inquiry and should not shy away from these hard topics. Ideally, these hard questions are asked before an accident occurs.
However, if a crash does occur as a result of age-related declines, victims should not feel limited by the driver's age. It may be hard to bring a claim against an older driver, but the need for compensation is no less. Furthermore, bringing a claim helps bring attention to the risks associated with aging and this attention may help prevent future tragedies. If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a car accident, regardless of the age of the at-fault driver, call us. We can help.