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Texas Personal Injury News

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Ask a Car Accident Lawyer: Are Senior Drivers More Likely to Cause a Collision?

Being able to drive gives senior citizens autonomy and allows them to remain active longer in their communities. Retaining a valid Texas driver's license lets elderly citizens get to and from medical appointments, the grocery store, worship services and other activities. Driving not only keeps them from burdening friends or family members in order to get where they need to go, but it is an integral part of their identity — a competent, licensed driver.

But are older drivers more of a safety risk behind the wheel? The answer might surprise you.

What the numbers say

According to statistics supplied by the United States Census Bureau, there were approximately 30 million senior citizens 70 or older living in America in 2013. This group comprises about a tenth of the nation's total population. Federal Highway Administration reports from the same year indicate that there were more than 23 million senior citizens over 69 who were licensed drivers. Of that age range, seniors who still legally drive made up 78 percent of that group. One factor that is likely to increase the propensity for driving among senior citizens is the death of a spouse or a late-in-life divorce. Conversely, retiring has the opposite effect; seniors tend to drive fewer miles when they no longer work.

Overall, today's senior citizens are electing to drive longer than they have in past decades. This could be because of several factors. As a group, they are living longer and enjoying better health farther into their golden years due to medical advances. Also, more men and women in the 70-and-older group have been in possession of drivers' licenses for the majority of their lives, unlike many of the same age only a few decades ago.

In the years between 1997-2012, there was a 30 percent uptick in licensed drivers over 69. Yet the rate of drivers aged 70 and up who were involved in a fatal collision between those same years actually decreased more than the rates for drivers between 35 and 54. Some possible reasons for this include:

  • Data suggests that those 70 and older drive less than their younger counterparts. Senior drivers travel 45 percent fewer miles than those licensed drivers 35 to 54 years old. Shorter trips and less time spent behind the wheel results in fewer opportunities to be involved in an auto accident.
  • Some studies indicate that those older than 64 impose their own restrictions on driving due to declining health, vision, memory and mobility. Senior citizens may choose to only drive during daylight hours, drive solely on the surface streets and avoid driving at all in inclement weather.

Where the problem lies

One of the ironic characteristics of cognitive impairment is that often those with a significant degree of memory loss, or indications of the onset of dementia, fail to recognize these signs and symptoms in themselves. Some cognitively-impaired senior citizens continue to drive long after it is no longer safe for them or others on the road. Those who live alone and have no family members around to monitor their driving are at the highest risk for unsafe driving behaviors.

It is important to understand that age alone does not determine a senior citizen's ability to drive. There are some healthy seniors in full possession of their mental faculties who continue to drive without incident well into their 80s. Alternatively, there are drivers in their early 60s whose mental and physical conditions make them true hazards on the road. 

Because there is no specific criterion to determine who should no longer be driving, it's important to understand how the aging process impacts one's driving abilities.

As people age, they become less flexible. Body parts don't move as smoothly or as quickly as they do in younger folks. Aging diminishes both coordination and strength, which can have serious repercussions behind the wheel.

5 consequences of aging

  • Leg pain or stiff knees can make it harder to switch the foot quickly from the gas pedal to the brake when seconds count.
  • Reduced mobility in the neck can make it impossible to glance over the shoulder to check for clearance when changing lanes. Even looking right and left at intersections to check for oncoming cars, pedestrians and cyclists can be challenging.
  • When reaction times are slowed by even tenths of a second, failing to note that vehicular traffic ahead has slowed, another car is merging or a child has darted out into the street can have tragic consequences.
  • Weakness in the arms and wrists can make it difficult to quickly turn the steering wheel to avert disaster. 
  • Multitasking becomes harder with age. Monitoring the road, weather conditions and the movements of pedestrians and other vehicles may become overwhelming to some older drivers.

Texas license renewal policies

The state of Texas acknowledges that, over a relatively short period of time, there can be substantial changes in an older driver's abilities to safely operate a motor vehicle. As such, there are some licensing restrictions in place for older drivers to prevent those who are no longer mentally or physically able to drive from renewing their licenses. Additionally, during the driver's license renewal process, drivers of any age whose demeanor, behavior or appearance raises red flags to agency personnel may be required to provide additional evidence to substantiate their fitness to drive.

This may include retaking all or some of the licensing examinations. Drivers who have a sketchy history of accidents or past driving violations, and those whose dangerous driving behaviors may have been red-flagged to the agency, might face closer scrutiny before a renewal is granted. Even when a license is renewed, certain restrictions may be put in place. They may include:

  • Daylight driving only
  • Driving only to specific locations
  • Driving only within stated boundaries

The liability is clear

Nobody wants to deprive senior citizens of their independence, but when older drivers demonstrate that they are no longer competent to drive, they become both a deadly hazard and a legal liability on Texas roads. Accident victims who sustain injuries and property damages in collisions with at-fault senior drivers have a legal right to pursue a claim for damages through the Texas civil courts.

After an auto accident, medical bills mount quickly. Traumatic brain injuries and multiple fractures can require months of rehabilitation from physical and occupational therapists, and many accident victims will never fully recover from the injuries they suffered. To return to at least a semblance of your pre-collision life, you will likely need to retain a Texas car accident lawyer to best represent your interests.

The dedicated attorneys at Chandler, Mathis & Zivley stand ready to assist our clients in pursuing justice. For over 40 years, we have maintained a strong and unblemished legal record in East Texas and Houston. If you have being injured in an at-fault wreck with another driver, we can help. Contact us to schedule your free consultation.


Sources:

http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/older-drivers/qanda#cite-text-0-3

http://www.helpguide.org/articles/aging-well/age-and-driving-safety-tips.htm



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