When Does Age Become a Safety Issue for Drivers?

According to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2016 there were more than 6,700 people over the age of 65 killed in traffic accidents, representing about 18% of all traffic-related fatalities that year. It’s crucial for older drivers to acknowledge the impact their personal health has on driving ability and the signs it may be time to stop driving.

How Age Impacts Driving Ability

As we age, our physical and mental faculties deteriorate in different ways. The aging process affects everyone differently. While some people develop serious medical complications and experience a diminished capacity for independent living before age 60, others may show few signs of declining health and appear as sharp as ever well into their 80s. It’s important for all older drivers to keep close track of their personal medical issues and acknowledge the signs of impaired driving ability.

Some of the ways aging affects driving include:

  • Diminished reaction time. An older person may not be able to react as quickly to changing traffic conditions as a younger person. Hand-eye coordination and general reaction time slow with age. Even a few seconds can make a major difference on the road.
  • Deteriorated vision. Older adults generally have poorer eyesight than younger individuals, and other medical conditions like glaucoma and cataracts can also impede older drivers’ vision. This can make it very difficult to drive in low light or inclement weather.
  • Reduced hand-eye coordination. Operating a vehicle requires a great deal of muscle memory and hand-eye coordination. Older drivers may gradually have more difficulty operating vehicle controls or keeping control of a vehicle at higher speeds.
  • Mental deterioration. Older adults are more vulnerable to memory issues, dementia, and other mental health conditions that can lead to getting lost or causing accidents. These issues may also lead to drivers becoming lost along familiar routes or incurring moving violations for failing to stop at stop signs or red lights due to confusion.
  • Medication side effects. Many older individuals require at least one prescription medication to manage the symptoms of age-related medical conditions. Some of these medications may cause side effects that make driving more difficult or dangerous.

If an older driver has concerns about his or her personal medical issues and their potential impact on driving ability, he or she should consult a doctor as soon as possible to learn more about these issues. Elderly drivers can ask for recommendations for managing impaired driving ability. Ultimately, if a doctor recommends that a senior driver surrender his or her driver’s license, it’s best to follow this advice despite the fact that it can be very upsetting to relinquish the freedom that comes with driving.

Managing the Effects of Aging for Older Drivers

Some states require drivers of a certain age to undergo vision screening at every license renewal, and others have special guidelines for drivers over certain ages. It’s vital for all older drivers to follow their states’ guidelines for driving at advanced age and keep tabs on their personal medical complications that may make driving unsafe. Generally, drivers over 50 need to consider the effects their personal health may have on driving ability.

There is rule or law for determining when a driver should give up his or her driver’s license. Since aging affects everyone differently, there is no real way to predict when a particular driver should surrender his or her license. Instead, every driver should pay close attention to changes in driving ability and medical issues that make driving more difficult. In general, the rate of fatal accidents per mile traveled is higher for drivers over the age of 75, and highest for drivers over 85.