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Safety Concerns Related to Elderly Drivers

By 2025, the elderly (those over age 65) will account for 20 percent of drivers on the road. Although it is promising that life expectancies are increasing, there are safety concerns about the rising number of elderly drivers on the road.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), older people accounted for 8 percent (183,000) of the individuals injured in traffic crashes and for about 15 percent of traffic fatalities in 2008. In Kansas, elderly drivers accounted for 66 of the state’s nearly 500 fatal crashes, and in Missouri, older drivers accounted for 148 of the traffic fatalities.

While older drivers are less likely to drive under the influence of alcohol and more likely to wear seat belts, other factors contribute to motor vehicle accidents involving seniors. Slower reflexes, frailer bodies, poorer eyesight, faulty hearing and wavering stamina are all factors that can impact an older person’s ability to be a safe driver.

The news for seniors is not all bad; the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) surveyed fatal crash data for the years 1997 to 2008 and found that fatal crash rates, non-fatal injury and property damage rates for drivers over 70 had dropped.

The decline could be based on safer vehicles, improved general health of drivers, or improved emergency medical and trauma care. Another consideration could be the more stringent driving restrictions set by many states for older drivers. Some states require road tests and reaction tests for older drivers. Additionally, some require elderly drivers to have shorter renewal terms – such as one to two years.

For those drivers over 65 in Kansas, renewals are required every four years. For Missouri’s drivers over 70, licenses are renewed every three years. Neither state places additional restrictions on older drivers.

As the driving population continues to age, law enforcement and state legislators will need to consider how to best address the impact of aging drivers on the roadways.