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Linda Chalat
Linda Chalat
Attorney • (866) 735-1102 Ext 366

Elderly Drivers Create Concern

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A retired Harvard law professor has been cited with motor vehicle homicide in a crash that killed a 54-year-old Massachusetts woman riding a motor scooter. The professor, who is 81, is accused of hitting the rear left side of the scooter as it was making a left turn. The professor has said the accident occurred when he got lost while driving his wife to the dentist.

A Colorado man was killed last month in a motorcycle accident when a woman, aged 98, driving a sedan pulled out in front of his 2007 Honda motorcycle. The fatal collision happened when the elderly driver pulled out of Goddard Ranch Court to head southbound on U.S. 285 and "into the path" of the northbound motorcycle, Reid said. A Colorado State Patrol investigation into the fatal accident is ongoing.

Not surprisingly, statistics show that older drivers are more likely than younger ones to be involved in multi-vehicle crashes, particularly at intersections. And in the next 20 years the number of elderly drivers (persons 70 & over) is predicted to triple in the United States.

As age increases, older drivers generally become more conservative on the road. Many mature drivers modify their driving habits (for instance to avoid busy highways or night-time driving) to match their declining capabilities.

Research on age-related driving concerns has shown that at around the age of 65 drivers face an increased risk of being involved in a vehicle crash. After the age of 75, the risk of driver fatality increases sharply, because older drivers are more vulnerable to both crash-related injury and death. Three behavioral factors in particular may contribute to these statistics: poor judgment in making left-hand turns; drifting within the traffic lane; and decreased ability to change behavior in response to an unexpected or rapidly changing situation.

Statistics provided by NHTSA show that in two-vehicle fatal crashes involving an older and a younger driver, it is 3.1 times as likely that the vehicle driven by the older person will be struck. In 27% of these two-vehicle fatal crashes the older driver was turning left. Drivers over 65, along with new teen-age drivers, have the highest accident rates per miles driven. Another NHTSA study found that on the basis of estimated annual travel, the fatality rate for drivers 85 and over is nine times as high as the rate for drivers 25 through 69 years old.

Recognizing the problem, California now requires retesting for anyone involved in a fatal crash or three or more crashes in one year, and requires drivers over 70 to retest if they are involved in two or more crashes in one year. Proposals in several other states to toughen licensing requirements for older drivers have been thwarted by senior-citizen lobbying groups (AARP & others), who say age-based measures are discriminatory. In Pennsylvania, physicians are required to report disabilities that may affect driving ability. Some physicians, however, are reluctant to jeopardize their relationship with a patient by making such a referral. Most other states do not require physicians to report psychomotor, visual, and cognitive deficiencies that may affect driving to licensing agencies.

AgeQuest, a specialty firm addressing the training needs of professionals in the field of aging, older adults, and family caregivers, suggests in its publication "Supporting the Mature Driver" that the decline of skills necessary for safe driving sometimes occurs suddenly or subtly. Signs may include a pattern of close calls, violations or collisions, increasing difficulty in noticing pedestrians, signs, objects, or other vehicles; an observable decline in physical abilities; or a rapid onset of fatigue from driving. More information on the publication and instructions on ordering a copy are available at www.drivers.com.

Older drivers need to be aware that medications can significantly impair their driving by making them drowsy or distracted. Physicians and pharmacists should be consulted before starting new medications, to see if the drug can affect the ability to drive. Since side effects are often worse for the first few days of a new medication, people should avoid driving until they know exactly how a new drug affects them. If any medication causes sleepiness or disorientation, someone else should do the driving.