As baby boomers mature, the population of older drivers is growing larger. In fact, within the last decade, the number of older drivers has increased by more than 20% nationwide: in 2012, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), there were about 23.1 million licensed drivers age 70 and older. Here at home, the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety reports that people age 65 and older comprise almost 18% of Missouri's licensed drivers.
Unfortunately, it's a fact of life: there are several unavoidable symptoms and conditions that accompany old age - and some of these can dramatically increase an older driver's risk of being involved in an auto accident. Old age can often cause a loss of coordination, cognitive function, or eyesight, along with a decline in other skills. When motorists start experiencing these symptoms, it may be time for them to stop driving - for their safety, and for the safety of others on the road.
It's certainly not easy conversation to have with a parent or grandparent, but it's crucial to talk with your older family members regularly to ensure that they're still able to safely operate a motor vehicle. If you think they might be at risk because of an age-related condition, experts encourage you to speak up, even though it might be a tough subject to address. Ultimately, however, remind yourself that you're bringing up the topic in the interest of your loved one's safety and well-being.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) asks you to consider these questions to help evaluate if you or a loved one should retire from your driving career:
- Are you getting lost when taking a familiar route?
- Are you finding new scratches or dents on your vehicle?
- Are you getting ticketed for a number of driving violations?
- Are you finding road signs or road markings to be suddenly overwhelming?
- Do you find yourself driving too fast or too slow for no apparent reason?
- Are you getting into car accidents or often near-misses?
- Are you currently taking medications that suggest that you refrain from operating a motor vehicle?
- Have you received a recommendation from your doctor to stop or reduce driving?
- Do you have health problems that could affect your driving ability?
Data from NHTSA indicates that 5,560 people age 65 and older died (and an estimated 214,000 more suffered injuries) in 2012 car accidents throughout the U.S. Compared to statistics from 2011, car accident related injuries and fatalities in this age group increased by 9%. Here in Missouri, in 2012, 142 people were killed and 769 suffered injuries in accidents involving a driver age 65 or older, according to the Highway Patrol.