In 2009, there were more than 33 million licensed drivers over the age of 65 in the United States and that number is likely to grow as our population ages. On average, 500 senior drivers are injured in car accidents every day. According to the NHTSA, “on the basis of estimated annual travel, the fatality rate for drivers 85 and over is nine times as high as the rate for drivers 25 through 69 years old.” In addition, older people made up 9 percent of the population in 1997 but accounted for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities and 17 percent of all pedestrian fatalities.

Per mile traveled, fatal crash rates increase starting at age 75 and increase considerably after age 80. Although this is largely due to a higher susceptibility to injury and medical complications among older drivers, age-related declines in vision and cognitive functioning as well as physical changes do affect some seniors’ driving abilities.

Do Driving Skills Actually Decline with Age?

In general yes they do but declines don’t affect every senior personally. With that in mind, we cannot simply say that anyone over a certain age cannot drive.For those whose skills do decline towhere they are a danger to themselves and others, caregivers can expect a difficult situation. Many elderly drivers become defensive or even angry when they are told that they are no longer safe to drive. The decision may come down to their medical doctor or the department of licensing.

How Does Aging Affect the Abilities of Senior Drivers?

The physical and mental changes that come on as we age can diminish the abilities of senior drivers:

  • A slower response time
  • A decrease in vision and/or hearing skills
  • A loss of muscle strength and flexibility
  • Drowsiness due to medications
  • A reduction in the ability to focus or concentrate
  • Lower tolerance for alcohol

Tips for Elderly Adults to Stay Fit for the Road:

  • Exercise regularly to increase strength and flexibility.
  • Ask the doctor or pharmacist to review medicines (both prescription and over-the counter) to reduce side effects and interactions.
  • Get eye exams at least once a year. Wear glasses or corrective lenses if required.
  • Drive during daylight hours and in good weather.
  • Find the safest route with well-lit streets, intersections with left turn arrows, and easy parking.
  • Plan the route ahead of time.
  • Leave a large following distance behind the car in front of you.
  • Avoid distractions such as loud music.

The bottom line is that we should be compassionate to our parents’ desire to maintain independence through driving but equally aware of changes in their ability. If you believe that your elderly parent or patient is experiencing medical or other problems due to aging that could impair their ability to drive safely you should address the issue right away; involving their medical doctor if necessary.

If you or a loved one were injured in an accident, you have enough to deal with. Let an experienced accident attorney fight for the full compensation that you deserve. It is not uncommon to receive a settlement from the insurance company that is five to ten times bigger with the help of a lawyer. Call the caring accident attorneys at Tario & Associates, P.S. in Bellingham, WA today for a FREE consultation! We have been representing residents of Whatcom County, Skagit County, Island County and Snohomish County since 1979. You will pay nothing up front and no attorney fees at all unless we recover damages for you!

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