Should Seniors Be Allowed To Drive?

By Chanaka Konpiti

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

In the next 15-20 years, the number of elderly individuals will more than triple in the United States.

Should Seniors Be Allowed To Drive?

That’s right... the number of people over the age of 70... will triple! So what does this mean?

Well, for one thing, it means that there will a lot more retirement homes popping up.

But it also means that there will be a lot of elderly drivers on the roads.

It is a fact that as a person ages, their motor skills and reaction times decrease. This can pose a potential threat to fellow motorists on the roads.

Studies have shown that older drivers are far more likely to be involved in multi-vehicle crashes, especially at intersections as compared to teenagers who are just learning how to drive.

In fact, after the age of 75, the risk of a driver fatality increases sharply because older drivers are more vulnerable to both crash related injury and death.

A NHTSA study of 1995 FARS (Fatal Accident Reporting System) data reports that senior citizens accounted for:

  • Almost 1 out of every 5 pedestrian fatalities
  • 13% of all traffic fatalities
  • 13% of all vehicle occupant fatalities

So why is it that elderly people are involved in so many car crashes?

  1. Eyesight problems

    Eyesight is often one of the first senses that deteriorates with age. This includes not only visual acuity but also peripheral vision, depth perception and the speed at which at which our eyes adjust to changes in light levels.

    These changes can make it difficult to judge speed and distance, cope with bright sunlight or headlamp glare and reduce our field of view at junctions.

    It is estimated that some older drivers can take twice as long as younger drivers to recognise the flash of brake lights because of an impaired ability to determine colour.

  2. Physical problems

    Restricted mobility and muscular stiffness can make it difficult in maneuvering the vehicle when necessary. Weakening muscles can affect ability to steer and brake, eventually posing a risk to other motorists.

  3. Reaction time

    A slower response time can cause problems if other drivers stop suddenly, or pull out in front of a senior.

    With all this negative data, the answer to the question as to whether seniors over a certain age should be allowed to drive seems to be a definitive NO. However, that does seem harsh! This loss of independence is a crushing blow to anyone, and some seniors are fit and well enough to drive longer than others. That leaves us with the question of what diagnostics or reporting can be done before the licence of a elderly person is revoked.

  4. Mandatory driving tests

    Some states in the US ,including California, have enforced a mandatory driving test which the elderly have to pass a if they have been involved in a fatal crash or three or more car accidents in one year. The test is designed specifically for the elderly to test not only their driving skills but their reaction times as well.

  5. Deficit reporting laws

    Certain US states have made it the law for doctors to report disabilities that elderly patients may have that would hinder their driving ability on the road.

Admittedly, the thought of all those seniors on the road can be a little daunting, but as with any other demographic, we need to be fair in our assessments and humane in our decisions. Not all seniors are created equal!