Should The Elderly Be Allowed To Drive?

July 18, 2012

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

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, as well as more people seeking out quality home care providers.

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

Why are so many old people are involved in car crashes?

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.

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.

Reaction time

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

Warning Signs

Here are some warning signs that it may be time for your older relative to get off the road:

  • Many near-accidents or crashes
  • Constantly getting lost , even in familiar areas
  • Frequent dents from mailboxes, curbs, etc.
  • Having trouble reading street signs and traffic lights
  • Becoming easily distracted while driving and “zoning out”

How to Be Safe

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.

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.

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.

Regular Medical Checkups

  • Senior citizens who want to continue driving should consider getting routine checkups with their doctor to test eyesight and cognitive skills.

Benefits of not driving

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!

There are also actually quite a few benefits in getting a senior off the road.

Cost Savings

Maintenance of a vehicle can be very expensive and not feasible for most older people, especially if they are not using it often. Donating the vehicle to another family member or selling it can lead to very substantial savings!

These cost savings could be put towards paying for an eldercare provider.

Healthier Alternatives

The time spent on driving could be better spent on maintaining a person’s physical health - such as taking more walks and learning new exercises. Moreover, brisk walks can be a viable substitutes for short trips and older relatives can be driven by other family members when needed.

Peace of Mind

For the family of an elderly citizen, getting them off the road could be a huge relief. Seniors have a high rate of accidents and are shown to be on average worse drivers so this move could be very beneficial for both parties.

Ultimately, there is no hard and fast rule to use when deciding when an old person should stop driving. The decision is ultimately up to them and their family but many health and safety factors should be considered.

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