There comes a time in everyone’s life when we need to give up some of the things we were once proficient at and perfectly capable of doing. Unfortunately, it can be tough to know when the time is right, especially when it comes to driving. Driving gives you a sense of independence and even if you’ve grown too old to do it safely, it can be tough to admit to yourself and others that you’re better off staying out from behind the wheel.
Despite the effort family and friends often put into getting a loved one to give up his or her keys, many seniors continue to drive well beyond the time it is safe for them to do so. There are exceptions to the rule, of course. Some people are able to continue driving until their final days without concern for safety, but in general, most people deal with increased driving risks as they age.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 5700 elderly adults were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2014, a number that represents the annual norm. Nearly 250,000 were injured on the nation’s highways and required emergency assistance for their injuries. Every day, approximately a dozen and a half seniors are killed in car crashes, and while not all of them are the fault of the senior driver, data shows older drivers do face an increased risk.
Risk of involvement in a fatal crash begins to increase when a person reaches age 70. Fatal crashes among older adults is highest among drivers 85 and older. It is believed this is due to several factors, including increased susceptibility to injuries and higher rates of medical complications. There is also concern for older drivers experiencing vision and cognitive function, which can easily contribute to unsafe driving.
There are also physical issues faced by seniors that can affect their ability to drive and contribute to accidents on the road. Up to 80 percent of people in their 70s deal with arthritis, a condition that makes simple driving actions like turning, flexing, and twisting a challenge. Senior drivers might also have weaker muscles, decreased flexibility, and limited range of motion – all things that affect a person’s ability to drive safely. And finally, older drivers tend to take more medications, some of which can affect driving performance.
What Does this Mean for People Sharing the Road with Elderly Drivers and How Do You Stay Safe?
First, it’s important to understand that if you are injured in an accident caused by an elderly driver, you have a right to take legal action. It is against the law for someone to drive if he or she is not capable of doing so. Some states have taken measures to ensure older drivers are capable.
In Arizona, drivers’ licenses do not expire until a person reaches the age of 65. At 60, drivers receive a license that is valid for five years, and older drivers might be asked to take a vision test or written test when the time comes to renew. Supplemental traffic school courses are also available to familiarize senior drivers with any driving rule changes. The goal is to monitor Arizona’s senior drivers and ensure their ability to drive hasn’t changed as they’ve aged.
Unfortunately, even with the extra effort to protect seniors and those they share the road with, accidents happen. If you are injured in an accident caused by a senior driver who can no longer safely operate a vehicle, you have a right to take legal action.
If you are injured in an accident caused by an elderly driver, it’s important to work with an attorney who has experience dealing with senior motorists. It is possible to respect a person’s right to independence, but also hold him or her accountable for a mistake that led to another person’s injuries. Your safety is just as important as someone’s right to drive.
How Can You Protect Yourself and Loved Ones as the Driving Population Ages?
Use your seatbelt and make sure all of the passengers in your vehicle are doing so too. If a loved one is a senior driver, speak to him or her about using a seatbelt, too.
Avoid poor driving conditions and recommend your senior loved one do the same. Driving in poor conditions, most of which are related to the weather, increases a person’s risk for being involved in an accident. Research shows many seniors already avoid driving during bad weather and at night, and some even go as far as avoiding the highways where they must travel at higher speeds.
Never drive after using drugs or alcohol. Older adults tend to risk driving while intoxicated less frequently than younger drivers. However, many older adults use prescription medications that can interfere with their ability to drive safely. If you have concerns about sharing the roads with seniors, make sure you are in the best possible condition to drive. And if an elderly loved one is taking medication, make sure it does not affect his or her ability to operate a vehicle safely.
Additional steps elderly drivers can take to reduce their risk for accidents:
- Stay as physically fit as possible. Regular exercise keeps you flexible and strong
- Speak to your doctor about the medications you are taking and whether they interfere with driving.
- Plan your route in advance so you aren’t navigating and guessing while behind the wheel.
- Have your eyes checked at least once a year. If you need to wear glasses when driving, do so.
- Maintain enough distance between you and the vehicle in front of you so you reduce your risk for rear-end collisions.
- Avoid distracted driving. Do not talk on the phone, change the dials on the radio, or eat while driving.
- Map out the lowest risk route when driving anywhere. Avoid busy intersections, left turns without signal arrows, and high speed roadways.
- Consider using public transportation if it’s available and if it possible to do so safely and conveniently. Nobody wants to give up driving, but reducing the amount of time you spend behind the wheel reduces the risk you’ll make a mistake that completely costs you your driving privileges.
If you’ve been injured in an accident caused by an elderly driver, we can help. Contact a professional car accident attorney in Scottsdale at Warnock MacKinlay Law at 602.833.0933 to discuss your case.