When a 92-year old driver pulled into traffic on a Florida highway last April he was blamed for setting off a chain reaction that resulted in the deaths of three utility workers.
The crash was far from the exception. Federal statistics show that an average 15 older adults are killed in motor vehicle crashes, another 586 injured, every single day. And that doesn’t take into account fatalities and injuries caused by senior citizens behind the wheel. But a new study reveals that 14 million Americans have been involved in a road “incident” caused by an elderly driver during the past year.
Those findings could add to mounting pressure to come up with tougher rules for older drivers, such as more frequent tests to ensure a senior citizen is competent enough to get behind the wheel. Such efforts have often run into strong resistance in a country where transportation alternatives aren’t always available.
“Driving is often associated with independence and freedom, which is why many senior citizens are reluctant to give up their car keys,” said Andy Cohen, CEO of Caring.com, the website that commissioned the new study.
Conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, the report concluded that approximately 14 million Americans have been involved in either an accident or near accident with an elderly driver during the previous 12 months.
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Other studies have shown growing support for either restricting older drivers or subjecting them to more stringent testing. The Caring.com survey didn’t raise that question directly but did ask who should determine whether an elderly person is no longer fit to drive, and Americans were largely split between three alternatives:
- 29% favor a doctor or caretaker;
- 25% think it’s the job of family, while
- 23% feel state authorities, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles should determine an older driver’s competence.
Only 16% believe an elderly motorist should make the decision on their own.
But the study also found 40% of Americans would be more comfortable discussing funeral arrangements or selling an elderly person’s home than talking about whether a parent should still be driving.
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A recent report by the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated the number of drivers over the age of 65 rose 34% between 1999 and 2012, to reach 36 million. That figure is expected to climb rapidly as the huge Baby Boom generation heads into retirement.
According to the CDC, “Per mile traveled, fatal crash rates increase noticeably starting at ages 70‒74 and are highest among drivers age 85 and older. This is largely due to increased susceptibility to injury and medical complications among older drivers rather than an increased tendency to get into crashes.
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But the organization also points out that “age-related declines” in health, such as weakened vision and issues like Alzheimer’s Disease, may impact a senior’s ability to drive.