The Risk Drivers Face as They Age

by Staff Blogger | September 12th, 2022

Older adults face more risks on the road than younger drivers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 13% of deadly car crashes in 2020 involved drivers aged 65 or older. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these crashes place all involved parties at risk but are far more fatal for drivers over 70.

Many variables place older drivers at risk of an accident, including reduced mental and physical abilities. Read on to learn the risks older drivers face on the road and how Berg Injury Lawyers can help if your loved one suffers injuries in an auto accident.

How Age Affects Driving Ability

Everyone’s physical and mental abilities decrease with age, impacting their driving skills in various ways. Age-related driving issues include:

Decreased Physical Ability

Older adults often experience joint and muscle stiffness, arthritis, or other mobility conditions that make moving difficult or painful. These impairments can make it hard to turn the steering wheel or hit the brakes in time, potentially leading to a collision.

Many older adults also have vision problems. Vision issues can cause trouble seeing at night, eye pain when exposed to bright light (such as oncoming headlights or sun glare off the windshield), and difficulty reading road signs. If elderly drivers overlook stop signs or other vehicles, they can cause serious harm to themselves and others in a car accident.

Reduced Cognitive Ability

Mental and cognitive functions decline in older adults, making certain aspects of driving difficult or dangerous. Dementia is a term for the general cognitive decline of aging persons and can contribute to worsening driving in elderly adults.

For instance, an older driver with dementia may fail to fully take in their surroundings and collide with another car while attempting to change lanes. They may also become lost and distressed on streets that used to be familiar to them.

Medical Conditions and Medication

Various medical conditions and medications can impair driving ability. If an aging driver has a medical condition like sleep apnea, diabetes, or Alzheimer’s, they are more likely to cause a collision due to impaired functioning.

Likewise, taking medication that causes difficulty moving, seeing, or reacting can increase a driver’s chances of causing or being involved in an accident. Any medication that cautions not to “operate heavy machinery” after taking, means your loved one should not be driving while the medication is in effect. 

Recognizing Signs a Loved One Should No Longer Drive

Some older adults cannot safely operate a vehicle. According to the National Institute of Aging, older adults should be monitored or kept off the road if you notice:

  • They receive more tickets, dents in the car, or get into more car accidents.
  • They frequently become lost, even in familiar areas.
  • They show reluctance or anxiety around driving.
  • They have dementia, profound loss of sight, or another condition or disability that makes driving dangerous.

Protecting Aging Loved Ones Behind the Wheel

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported that between 1997 and 2020, the fatality rate for drivers over 70 had declined by 22%. This may be attributed to increased awareness of the danger of letting elderly drivers with physical or cognitive impairments drive. It’s important to continue protecting aging loved ones who continue driving after age 65.

Car Adaptations and Habit Adjustments

For older adults with physical disabilities who can otherwise drive safely, consider adapting their car for their condition. For instance, if they have pain in their legs or feet, they can install devices allowing them to control the pedals by hand.

Other aging drivers can change their driving habits. For example, a driver with vision problems may opt to drive only during the day, limiting exposure to disorienting headlights that make an accident more likely.

Talking to Your Loved One About Not Driving

If you believe your loved one shouldn’t drive any longer, discussing their driving safety is crucial. Although there’s no one right way to approach the topic with your loved one, consider the following tips for the conversation:

  • Show empathy. It’s difficult for older adults to give up driving because they may feel like they are losing independence. Show them you understand their feelings and offer potential solutions that support their independence in other ways.
  • Use “I” language. Avoid using “you” language, as it can cause feelings of shame for an elderly driver. Instead, use “I” phrases such as, “I’m worried that it might not be safe for you to drive at night,” rather than, “You’re driving recklessly at night.”
  • Find solutions. Many older adults are reliant on driving for their daily and social needs. Work with them so they can still meet these needs, like finding carpools or transit services.

Contact an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer

Car accidents involving an elderly driver are immensely stressful. Our California car crash lawyers understand the complexity of car accident lawsuits and can provide the legal advice and protection you need for your elderly loved one.

Get in touch with Berg Injury Lawyers for a free initial consultation regarding your elderly loved one’s accident to learn how to proceed with their case.