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The Dangers of Elderly Driving & Plans to Improve Safety

Craig McClellan

The number of licensed drivers over the age of 65 has increased substantially in recent years. As the baby boomer generation continues to age, this gives the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration a strong push to create a plan to reduce car accidents among elderly drivers.

The NHTSA has put in place a five-year strategic plan designed for older drivers, despite the fact that they are statistically among the safest drivers on the road. The program takes a multi-faceted approach to improving safety for the millions of 65 and up drivers and their passengers all over the country. This includes a focus on driver behavior, data collection, and vehicle safety initiatives.

Upgrading the “Silver” Rating System

The NHTSA has already introduced its safety rating initiative designed specifically to address how well new vehicles work for older drivers. The "Silver" rating system will be upgraded as part of the new strategy. More specific data will be collected to help identify connections between crash rates and injuries and the changes that are associated with the aging process. Finally, the NHTSA will work to educate the public about age-related issues that can affect driver behavior, including changes in vision and mental ability.

Why Senior Driving Safety Is an Important Focus

The NHTSA estimates the number of senior citizen drivers is expected to triple in the next 20 years. That puts 6 million 65+ aged drivers on California roads. While a majority of older drivers have more experience and are more apt to obey traffic rules, some studies show increased age can make driving more difficult.

Consider the following insight from a study done in San Diego County on elderly drivers:

  • They accounted for 16% of all traffic-related deaths
  • They were responsible for 10% of traffic-related injuries
  • They contribute to nearly as many deaths per population / mile driven as teenage boys
  • They are more likely to suffer serious injury or death in an accident

IERPC Aims to Raise Awareness & Provide Education

The UC San Diego Injury Epidemiology Prevention and Research Center (IERPC) studied senior drivers and determined that their driving could be just as dangerous as that of more youthful and inexperienced drivers. The IERPC aims to help curb this issue by offering education.

Specifically, the organization helps train health professionals and police to better identify medical conditions that may affect older drivers and make them a danger on the road.

Their studies have shown that the main causes of driving disorders due to old age include:

  • Decreased Vision
  • Physical Weakness
  • Cognitive Impairment

By the time an individual turns 80, one-quarter of adults have serious vision deficits—both in peripheral and acuity vision. More common than vision problems in most cases, older adults can deal with thinner bones, reduced muscle mass, and arthritis, limiting their range of motion and reaction time. This can decrease an older driver’s ability to drive defensively on road, regardless of whether or not they obey all traffic laws.