Some older drivers have declining skills and physical abilities that make them dangerous on the roadIn Georgia today, there are more than 1 million drivers over the age of 65. More than 620,000 of those drivers are over the age of 70.

Some unique challenges accompany such a large number of older drivers. Many older adults face physical and cognitive issues as they age, and these declining abilities can lead to dangerous accidents on the road. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older drivers are involved in fatal crashes more often than drivers in any other age group, based on deaths per mile traveled. Though it can be difficult to face the reality of the decreased independence that occurs when one can no longer drive, older drivers and their families must address the very real risks associated with aging drivers.

Why Do Older Drivers Pose More Risks Behind the Wheel?

Driving is considered a simple task, and many people do not give much thought to all that goes into safely operating a vehicle. However, there are many physical and cognitive factors at play behind the wheel. Older adult drivers typically will experience changes in health and mobility as they age, and these changes can have a serious impact on their driving ability.

Some common problems include:

  • Stiff joints and muscles. Joints and muscles can stiffen or tighten with age, and arthritis is a common affliction among the elderly. This can make it difficult or even painful to turn the head, steer, and apply appropriate brake pressure.
  • Trouble hearing. Hearing proficiency can diminish with age, making it difficult for older drivers to hear oncoming sirens, horns, or troublesome noises coming from the car.
  • Trouble with vision. Eyesight also commonly changes over time, and it may be hard for older adults to see other vehicles and people outside their own vehicle. It can also make it difficult to read traffic and street signs or recognize even familiar surroundings.
  • Slower reaction time. Age, coupled with any number of other physical conditions (arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, and others), slows down reaction time and makes it difficult for older drivers to respond to changing road conditions in a timely manner.
  • Cognitive changes. It can be difficult for the elderly to focus on a task for a length of time. This decreased attention span, in addition to the risks that accompany many common elderly diseases like Alzheimer’s, can pose a risk to both the older driver and those who share the road. Often, the older adult does not even realize he or she is experiencing diminished cognitive ability.

The elderly are also more likely to be taking medications, many of which can have side effects that diminish their ability to concentrate on the task of driving. When a driver becomes tired, lightheaded, or less alert than usual, the consequences can be devastating.

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Common Dangers for Elderly Drivers

According to the CDC, approximately 586 older adults are injured in a car accident every day. These accidents occur for a variety of reasons, and the high number of injuries can be attributed, in part, to the fragility of the older body.

Some common causes of traffic crashes involving the elderly include…

  • Failure to yield.
  • Backing into another vehicle or object.
  • Hesitation to make a turn or merge with traffic.
  • Improper turns.
  • Failure to maintain proper speed.

When Is It Time To Hand Over the Keys?

The Georgia Department of Driver Services correctly points out that chronological age is not the sole indicator of driver fitness. Many elderly people are safe and responsible drivers. So, how can loved ones know when it is no longer in everyone’s best interest for an aging loved one to remain behind the wheel? And what should be done when that day arrives?

Experts suggest observing a loved one’s driving skill frequently to make sure they are traveling safely. Many communities host driver refresher courses, and some physical rehabilitation centers offer driver assessments for older drivers. Additionally, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has online screening tools to help evaluate older driver fitness.

When the time does come, it is best for the older driver to understand the risks and voluntarily relinquish the keys. When discussing the need to stop driving, focus on the driver’s skill rather than his or her age. Stick to discussing the safety facts and the available alternate transportation options. Understand the reluctance to give up the independence that accompanies driving, and work together to find solutions that keep everyone on the road safe and happy.

Experience Car Accident Injury Lawyers

While it is in the best interest of everyone on the road to make sure every driver is fit to sit behind the wheel, not all drivers will heed the advice and warnings of the professionals. If you or someone you love has suffered injuries in an accident with an older driver, you may be eligible to file a claim. Contact the experienced personal injury lawyers at Rechtman & Spevak to learn more about your rights in Georgia and the kinds of compensation that may be available.

Jaret A. Spevak
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Atlanta Personal Injury & Workers’ Compensation Attorney With 20+ Years Experience