As baby boomers near retirement and approach their golden years, the likelihood of this generation causing traffic accidents dramatically increases. Already, driver fatalities are highest among motorists 85 years and older, according to a USA Today poll. In 2009, there were 33 million licensed drivers in the United States ages 65 and older, according to the CDC. Annually, approximately 15 seniors are killed and 500 injured in car crashes daily.
The wake-up call is this U.S. Census Bureau projection: By 2030, the number our nation's senior-aged population nearly doubles to 9.6 million. If accident rates continue, this means 1 out of 4 fatal automobile accidents in the US will be the result of a senior citizen in the driver's seat.
When it comes to enforcing driver-safety laws, states are inconsistent in their approaches. Only two -- Illinois and New Hampshire -- require 85-year-olds to pass a driver-road test, whereas most states do require vision tests. As for driver age, no state sets a cap. In the U.S., a centurion can start the ignition and merge onto any super highway.
Fighting for independence and avoiding being a burden to their children, the elderly cling to their car keys, despite eroding motor and sensory functions. Without laws governing aging drivers, the seniors are free to get behind the wheel.
Twenty-three states require licensed drivers of a certain age to appear periodically at a department of motor vehicles office to renew their license. In 16 states, older drivers must prove they can see well enough to drive. In North Carolina, drivers must renew their driver’s license every eight years. For drivers 54 and over, the renewal rate is every five years. But special laws for senior drivers in North Carolina remain to be seen.
Aging breaks down the body’s sensory functions. Cataracts cloud the lens of the eye, blurring vision. Macular degeneration occurs mainly in the elderly. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, macular degeneration is the leading cause of central vision loss, or blindness in those 50 and older in the US.
But the National Motorists Association claims the problem is cognitive, not poor vision, poor motor skills or joint inflammation. The NMA says cognitive disorders affect judgment, understanding and memory loss. To that end, the association isn’t supportive of age-based testing and/or restrictions.
According to Elinor Ginzler of the American Association of Retired People, “Many elderly drivers do what we call, ‘self-regulate.’ They only drive to places they know, on familiar roads at certain times of the day. Making a decision not to drive at night means you recognize this isn’t safe anymore.”
To prohibit a potential accident, it may be up to loved ones to watch for warning signals. Share our driving tips for seniors. The American Geriatrics Society issued these red flags: running a stop light or sign without noticing; stopping at a green light for no reason; just missing hitting another vehicle or pedestrian without realizing it; merging lanes without first checking; getting lost in (what used to be) familiar areas; hesitating in the center of an intersection and confusing the gas and brake pedal.