From the time we get a driver’s license at the age of 16 and onward, being able to drive is a major pillar of freedom. Having a car and driving means the ability to get to work, run errands, take vacations, and so much more. The same holds true for older adults, but there are many times you might wonder if your father or mother (grandpa or grandma) should be driving as they creep into their 70s or 80s. There are over 36 million licensed drivers over the age of 65 and they have their own specific needs and safety concerns when it comes to driving.
Senior Drivers by the Numbers
While driving helps older adults maintain their mobility and independence, they are at a greater risk for being seriously injured or killed during an accident. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 586 seniors are injured every day in vehicle collisions. In just 2012, more than 214,000 were injured and another 5,560 were killed in traffic accidents. Older adults can also put others at risk by causing accidents and because driving is a complex task, waning vision or mental health can make it more difficult. Senior drivers commonly make mistakes such as failing to yield the right of way, misjudging time or distance in traffic, speeding or driving too slowly, not staying in the correct lane, and forgetting to stop completely at stop signs.
Contrary to what many might think, older adults do not cause more accidents than other age groups. In some areas, older adults are markedly better drivers. Compared to other adults (18-64) who use seatbelts roughly 66 percent of the time, more than three quarters (79 percent) of older vehicle occupants buckle up. They also have much lower rates of impaired driving, with only seven percent of fatal crashes for seniors involving alcohol blood levels greater than .08. Finally, older drivers usually limit their driving during bad weather and travel fewer miles.
Common Injuries for Senior Motorists
Compared to younger, healthier adults, seniors are relatively fragile drivers and passengers in vehicles. Not only are they more at risk for serious injuries, they also take far longer to recover if they even can. Injuries to the back, neck, and head are common for drivers of any age, but seniors are far more susceptible to problems with the chest and internal injuries. Bone fractures are much easier to sustain and many older adults sustain debilitating hip injuries from accidents. Whether or not the senior driver was at fault for the accident, any injuries will likely involve expensive medical bills and extended recovery times.
Missouri Regulations for Older Drivers
Because of the decreased competence in many older drivers, it is not uncommon for states to impose additional requirements on them. While most adults only need to renew their license every six years, anyone over the age of 70 must renew every three years. The applicant must also come into a DMV location and may be asked to take additional vision and road sign tests as well as a written examination.
For older drivers who experience any trouble while driving, such as difficulty following traffic signs or knowing when to yield, it is recommended to see a doctor. A physician can carry out appropriate testing and decide whether someone is fit for driving.
Signs to Watch Out For
If you are an older adult who drives or have a loved one who is, it’s important to understand how aging can affect driving skills. Old age, of course, does not mean difficulty driving for everyone and since everyone ages differently there is no hard cutoff for when someone should stop driving. However, if you are noticing a significant reduction in strength, coordination, or flexibility, it may be time to adjust your driving habits. Here are some warning signs that could affect your ability to operate a vehicle safely:
- Neck pain or stiffness – Driving requires looking over your shoulder to change lanes, turn left or right, etc. and pain in the neck can make it more difficult.
- Leg pain – This may affect your ability to push the brake or gas pedal.
- Reduced arm strength – Some older adults have trouble turning the wheel and steering quickly and effectively.
- Slower reaction times – Reacting appropriately is essential to driving and if you are slower to stop, turn, or notice things around you, it could be trouble.
- Difficulty with traffic signs – There are dozens of road signs, markings, and signals to keep track of as you drive. If you’re having any issues with paying proper attention, it’s time to get help.
Since it’s a skill we practice for most of our lives, conceding that your driving ability changes with age can be difficult. However, being willing to change and listen to others’ concerns when it comes to driving safety is really important.
Thankfully, older drivers can take some actions to ensure they continue driving safely. Take these precautions to help you and others stay safe:
- Have your vision checked regularly and make sure any corrective lenses are up to date;
- Exercise regularly to maintain strength, coordination, and flexibility;
- Talk to your doctor about the possible side-effects of any medication you are on;
- Get enough sleep; and
- Drive during low traffic hours and avoid driving at night or in bad weather,
Car Accident Attorneys You Can Trust
Being in a car accident can be difficult, especially if you’re an older adult. Medical expenses and recovery can take a toll – that’s why you need someone you can trust. The skilled car accident lawyers in Kansas City, Missouri at Krause & Kinsman Law Firm have the expertise and experience to help. We’ll answer any questions you have about your case and work hard to get you the compensation you deserve. For any car accidents in Kansas City, Missouri, call us today.
Robert Kinsman is a personal injury, mass tort, business litigation, and employment discrimination attorney who practices in Kansas City, Missouri. He graduated from the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Law and has been practicing law for several years now. Robert Kinsman is passionate about normalizing the life of his clients after they have been seriously injured. Learn more about his experience here.