States adopting stricter laws for elderly drivers

Thirty states now have adopted provisional requirements for elderly drivers to keep their licenses with the hope of reducing fatal car accidents. Massachusetts requires drivers age 75 or older to renew their licenses in person and submit proof of an eye exam. This change went into effect in 2009, after an 88-year-old driver fatally struck a 4-year-old pedestrian in Boston.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has proposed national guidelines for states to license elderly drivers. These guidelines include elderly driver safety programs and the recommendation that doctors will not be subject to lawsuits for reporting potentially unsafe, elderly drivers. A key guideline is for states to require in-person license renewal after a certain age, the NHTSA said.

According to the American Automobile Association, in-person license renewals are the most effective way to improve elderly driver safety. Experts say these consistent guidelines are critical because approximately one fourth of all drivers will be elderly by 2030, as the large baby boomer population ages.

Statistics suggest that crash rates increase when people are in their 70s, and even more so when they are still driving in their 80s. While many elderly citizens are perfectly able to drive safely, the demographic also has the largest number of fatal car crashes per miles driven, even compared to teen drivers.

Experts report that elderly drivers are often weaker than younger adults and teens, which makes it more difficult for them to survive injuries sustained in car accidents.

Medications and health conditions such as arthritis, dementia, vision problems, slower reflexes and reaction times can also make driving difficult for the elderly. Experts say changing lanes, navigating intersections or making left turns are especially difficult for this demographic.

A little good news is that elderly fatal car crashes have actually declined in the past decade. A spokesperson for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety thinks that this may be because newer cars are safer, roads are better engineered for safety and also because elderly Americans are staying healthier.

Source: Associated Press, “Older drivers face confusing array of license laws,” Lauran Neergaard, Sept. 17, 2012