Aging drivers are at higher risk of crashes, related injuries and deaths, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although older drivers tend to practice safer driving habits, involvement in fatal car accidents, per mile traveled, rises once drivers reach 70 and go up again sharply once a driver reaches 85.
Pennsylvania's over-65 population is currently at about 2.2 million, which means it ranks No. 4 nationally for the percentage of adults both over 65 and over 85. By 2030, we expect this group will reach 4 million, or nearly one-third of our state's population.
The good news is that 65 isn't what it once used to be. People are living longer, healthier and safer than ever before. However, age inevitably brings with it certain challenges that cannot be overlooked.
Why Senior Drivers Are at Higher Risk
We tend to think of driving as a relatively simple and straightforward task. The reality is that it's complex and involved. It requires us to be cognitively aware and physically flexible. We need to be able to grip the wheel, crane our necks and reach the brakes. We must be able to plan our routes ahead of time, yet react at a moment's notice and use our best judgment in determining the best speed for the conditions.
As research by AAA and others show, 80 percent of people in their 70s suffer from arthritis, which is a crippling joint condition that makes flexing, twisting and turning painful. That makes driving more difficult too. Older folks also have weaker muscles that may substantially limit their range-of-motion.
On top of this, three-fourths of adults over 65 report being on one or more medication, but only a third acknowledged this could have some type of impact on their driving performance.
Because older drivers are more fragile physically, they are 17 times more likely than 25-to-64-year-olds to die in a collision.
So why continue to drive? Our car accident attorneys recognize that for many, driving is not a luxury but a necessity. It's how people stay active, connected and independent - particularly in areas where public transportation may be lacking.
Keeping Senior Drivers Safer
While dozens of other states have laws that place special provisions/ requirements for older drivers, Pennsylvania is not among those. However, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation essentially audits all drivers over the age of 45.
All drivers are required to have their licenses renewed every four years. However, the DOT randomly chooses 1,900 drivers in the 45-and-older cohort every month who are required to obtain a physical exam and an eye exam - either from their own physician or at the licensing office. These tests must be successfully completed before the driver can renew his or her license.
The DOT also handles approximately 22,000 reports annually of unsafe drivers from health providers, law enforcement agencies, family members and others. There is no age restriction on this requirement.
Motorists over 55 are encouraged to take mature driver improvement courses, but those aren't required. The AARP reports last year approximately 360,000 participants nationally participated in 4-to-8-hour curriculum that focused on safe driving for seniors. Others in Pennsylvania are offered by AAA, Safe 2 Drive and Seniors for Safe Driving.