If you regularly watch the news, you’ve probably seen many stories about elderly motorists running into other vehicles, stationary objects, and people. Issues like these aren’t anything new. Reports like these have been circulating for what seems like forever.
Many studies have launched over the years where researchers have sought to determine how a person’s age may affect their driving abilities. There have also been proposed initiatives that have come and gone without receiving majority support to restrict our aging relatives’ vehicle operation rights.
Our goal is for this article to highlight the common reasons elderly drivers are involved in car accidents. As part of this, we’ll cover how age erodes the skillset we acquire and need to operate a vehicle safely. We’ll also touch on your options if a crash with a person of advanced age results in you sustaining injuries here in Illinois.
How Many Elderly Drivers Are on the Road in the United States?
The most recent data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) details how an estimated 45 million motorists aged 65 or over are licensed to operate a vehicle here in the United States. The federal agency also claims that the number of elderly drivers driving their cars later in life has increased by 60% since 2000.
Situations That Motivate Elderly Individuals to Continue Driving
Many elderly individuals are just like the rest of us in that they appreciate the freedom that operating their own vehicle affords them. They don’t allow their age to dictate whether they continue operating a vehicle.
Other aging members of society also drive out of necessity. These individuals may have once relied on their spouses to drive them but might have needed to take up operating a vehicle since their passing. They may have secured their license for the first time later in life after being left widowed. They might also be in a situation where they secured their license long ago but only recently began driving again because of the same situation.
There are also cases where elderly motorists may have once relied on their adult children, a caregiver, or a transportation service to get around. A relative’s distant move, an instance in which a caregiver moves on, or funding for a carpooling service that ended or became unreliable may warrant an aging individual getting behind the wheel of a vehicle once again.
How Common Are Elderly-Involved Crashes?
CDC data shows that in 2019, 250,000 elderly individuals (which are described as persons 65 or over) were seen in hospital emergency rooms after suffering injuries in an auto accident. An estimated 8,000 were killed in similar incidents. Each day, 700 new elderly individuals are injured and 20 killed in motor vehicle crashes.
That same CDC data shows that fatality rates are highest among male elderly motorists compared to female ones. Also, motorists aged 70+ have a higher per-mile crash rate than those in the 35-54 age group.
How Age Affects a Motorist’s Driving Abilities
Aging affects our bodies not just from a physical perspective but also from a mental one. Elderly motorists’ driving abilities may be impacted in the following ways as they continue to age:
Clear vision is key to staying safe on the road. Many motorists may find that contact lenses or glasses can aid them in seeing just as well as another motorist who has uncorrected 20/20 vision. There may come the point at which a driver is unable to even benefit from these visual aids, especially if they suffer from cataracts or visibility is poor due to inclement weather, for example.
Cognitive and Behavioral Changes
Our eyes work in conjunction with our brains. It takes time for our eyes to see something and send a message to our brain about it. It takes even more time for our brains to send a message to our bodies, such as our hands or feet, to take defensive actions to avoid potential harm.
Driving requires motorists to make quick decisions. Individuals’ mental sharpness tends to decline as they age, thus affecting their ability to make split-second decisions necessary to keep themselves and their fellow motorists safe.
While the ability to see is certainly necessary to drive, hearing is not. Each of us shares the road with deaf or hearing-impaired individuals every day—most of whom are licensed motorists. However, hearing impairments, like those that may creep up for elderly motorists, can be concerning. Why is this the case?
It has to do with individuals who have diminished acuteness of one sense being able to rely on perhaps a different, stronger one. For example, an individual who’s deaf may have a more profound sense of sight, smell, taste, or touch than others who are hearing. The same often can’t be said for many elderly individuals who experience diminished hearing. Age can lead to a decline in acuteness of all senses, meaning there’s little chance of one making up for a loss of the other.
Aside from vision, hearing is an important sense for motorists to have. The sound of a horn in traffic as a driver attempts to cut in close, children’s giggles at the playground, or a pedestrian’s screaming voice as they try to avoid being struck may all warn of impending danger. These can all be life-saving sounds that give motorists a chance to change their driving behaviors before they hurt anyone. So, it’s a big issue when elderly motorists lack a reasonable capacity to hear.
Illinois law allows motorists to simply take a vision test when renewing their driver’s license until they’re 75-years-old. At this point, they must present themselves at a local driver services facility in person, undergo a vision exam, and re-take the driving test before being allowed to renew their license.
Accident Types Elderly Motorists Are Most Likely to Become Involved In
If you’re curious what some of the more common, catastrophic types of accidents elderly motorists have, some of the more common ones include:
- Reversing or backing-up accidents: These often occur because motorists lack visual acuity when looking in their rearview mirrors. Elderly drivers sometimes lack the mobility necessary to rotate their heads and necks to check their blind spots for cars and individuals lingering behind them. These crashes may also occur if the elderly motorist presses on their accelerator when they intend to brake instead.
- Wrong-way accidents: Elderly motorists often miss signs or signals warning them not to turn down a one-way road or interstate ramp. Situations like this can lead elderly drivers to come head-on with oncoming traffic, ultimately resulting in motorists who weren’t anticipating their presence striking them.
Head-on or front-end collisions or sideswipe accidents may occur if elderly motorists fail to maintain their lanes. Intersection crashes, such as T-bone ones, may happen if elderly motorists aren’t paying close attention to traffic signs or signals and violate another driver’s right of way.
What Options Do You Have After an Elderly Motorist Strikes You?
Illinois law allows you to pursue an insurance claim against the motorist whose negligence resulted in you suffering injuries after a crash.
Insurance premiums tend to be high for elderly drivers relative to their propensity to cause a crash. The severity of your injuries may have resulted in hefty medical bills and other losses that exceed that aging motorist’s policy limits.
A lawyer can advise you of options beyond filing an insurance claim that may afford you the ability to cover the full gambit of crash-related damages you have amassed. Our Schweickert Ganassin Krzak Rundio, LLP attorneys will discuss these options with you during your free, no-obligation initial case review, which you can schedule now.
How Can the Truck Driver Shortage Impact Road Safety?
How Often Do Drivers Run Red Lights?