A recent report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says that many older motorists are continuing to drive despite being unable to operate a vehicle safely. Dr. David Yang explained older drivers are creating significant dangers on the roads. He places responsibility for making the determination of whether an older driver is capable of still driving in a safe manner on families. Their research shows that 80% of older drivers do not have any discussions about their reduced abilities behind the wheel with their family or their doctor. In 2016 there were over 3,500 traffic fatalities and over 200,000 injuries among drivers over the age of 65.
Older U.S. Demographics
WTOP News in Washington D.C. estimates that there are now 40 million people in the U.S. that are 65 years of age or older. In the last ten years, the volume of seniors with a driver's license rose by roughly 38%. Washington D.C. currently ranks 19th among the states based on the number of traffic deaths involving seniors. Maryland has seen over a 30% increase in such fatalities in the last four years.
Importance of Communication
AAA encourages adult children to initiate a conversation with their aging parents regarding the ability to safely drive before operational abilities decline. In most, cases these conversations develop in response to an incident such as a traffic stop for drifting outside of their lane of travel or following a collision. There is a natural feeling that being unable to drive is a sign that the individual is no longer capable of acting independently. Often adult children are hesitant to engage their parents in these discussions, as a strongly negative reaction is likely. AAA recommends approaching the topic with parents in a manner that is “gentle, sincere and empathetic”.
One disturbing trend that has emerged is the number of automobile accidents where a vehicle strikes a building. Data from the Storefront Safety Council indicates that roughly 60 of these incidents occur each day and 40% are caused by drivers who are over 60 years of age. Nancy Macke leads the “Keeping Us Safe” project, which is a test that assesses whether an individual's ability to drive has diminished. The assessment involves a roadway driving test using the person's own vehicle.
One key consideration is the screening process of renewing driver's licenses. States tend to have a similar set of procedures in place in that the driver must have identification, pass written and road maneuverability testing, and have their vision tested. In recent years many states have transitioned to allowing drivers to renew online or via mail and to renew for longer periods of several years to minimize costs. About 18 states currently have established a requirement that those over a certain age must renew their license more frequently and thus submit to vision screening.
States are now becoming more conscious of the problem and many have implemented further requirements including:
- Colorado drivers over the age of 65 may only renew online or by mail every other time
- Washington D.C. now requires that those beyond the age of 70 obtain approval for renewal from their doctor
- In Illinois, drivers who are 75 years old must complete a road skills test for each license renewal
- Many states allow for agencies to require physical tests or examinations if there are violations or crashes that suggest driving skills have diminished.