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Is it Time to Hang-Up the Keys?--What to Do About Elderly Related Traffic Accidents

Co-authored by Gregory Zimmer of The Collins Law Firm, P.C.

Maybe...but perhaps not for the reason you think.

In Greenfield, IL, an elderly driver blew through a shed with his SUV, flew into the air after hitting a tree stump, and landed in a home's kitchen.1  In Wisconsin, another elderly driver managed to hit 9 vehicles in a grocery store parking lot, all on camera.2  In Michigan, a third elderly driver reversed out of a CVS pharmacy drive-through, and landed in a neighboring pool after plowing through a wooden fence.3  These sensational stories from the past few months are examples of a perennial favorite of the nightly news cycle-the dangerous and/or deadly incompetent elderly driver.

While drivers 65 and older are statistically 16% more likely than adult drivers (those 25-64 years old) to cause an accident, they pose much less risk to the public than do drivers under 25-who are 188% more likely than adult drivers to cause an accident. However, older drivers are much more vulnerable to fatal injury in a crash. These findings offer little support for stricter licensing policies targeting older drivers but instead offer some support for policies to improve driver safety for seniors.4

Over time, statistics have continued to show that as age increases, so does the likelihood that elderly drivers involved in car accidents are more likely to sustain serious or fatal injuries. The fatality rate for drivers over 85 years old is 9 times as high as the rate for drivers between 25 and 69 years old. Statistically, the biggest danger of elderly people driving is not the danger they pose to others, but the danger they pose to themselves.

A total of 4,115 people ages 70 and older died in motor vehicle crashes in 2013. Although this figure is tragic, the rate of fatalities per capita among older people has decreased 47% since 1975 and is now at its lowest level.5  While some of this decrease is attributable to elderly drivers self-limiting their driving, it is also partly attributable to an increase in advanced safety features in cars.

Newer vehicles are being equipped with advanced safety features that help protect occupants of all ages and are especially beneficial to older occupants. Side airbags with head and torso protection have been estimated to reduce fatalities in nearside impacts by 45% for front seat occupants ages 70 and older, which is significantly larger than the 30% reduction estimated for front seat occupants ages 13-49.5 Additionally, modern safety belts with pretensioners and load limiters are generally equally effective for adults of all ages.5

For many senior drivers, the answer to whether it is time to hang-up the keys has been "not just yet." Older people now keep their licenses longer and make up a bigger proportion of the population than in past years as baby boomers age. The number of licensed drivers 70 and older increased 30% between 1997 and 2012. By 2025, drivers 65 and older will represent 25% of the driving population.4

Will more senior drivers mean more motor vehicle accidents in our future? Only time will tell. If, however, you or a loved one are in a motor vehicle accident, we are here to help you.

1 Fox News - "Everything was blown across the room:" Elderly driver apparently loses control of SUV, crashes into home" (April 2, 2015)

2 Associated Press - "Elderly driver hits 9 vehicles in parking lot of Wisconsin grocery store" (February 17, 2015)

3 Michigan Live News - "Elderly driver crashes through fence, lands in pool" (May 24, 2015)

4 Sears, Ashley - "What Risks Do Older Drivers Pose to Traffic Safety?" - Rand Corporation (2007)

5 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Highway Loss Data Institute - "Older Drivers" (July 7, 2015)

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