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Elderly Drivers and Fatal Car Accidents

There are more drivers aged 70 and older on the roads now than ever before. As the Baby Boomer generation ages, that population will expand, as will the information and misinformation regarding older drivers and serious car accidents. With no set guidelines about how to deal with age and the right to drive, it is important for people understand the real impact of older people on the roads before placing unnecessary restrictions on the licenses of elderly Americans.

Elderly drivers are significantly safer drivers than teens. The crash rate does not begin to go up for older drivers until past their 70th birthday, and does not begin to go up quickly until they turn 80. Older drivers are far less likely to speed or be guilty of drinking and driving. That said, there is no question that at some point, age begins to erode the skills necessary for safe driving.

More than half of U.S. states have laws in place that change the license renewal process of older drivers. These range from rules regarding the ability to renew by mail, to laws requiring older drivers to take the road test again. Administrators can go farther by limiting driving privileges to daytime driving, driving within a certain number of miles of the home, or other restrictions. It is not clear how effective any of these measures are in protecting older people and those who share the road with them.

There is no simple answer to the question of when a driver becomes too old to drive. Age affects people very differently, so drivers should be evaluated on an individual basis. In a perfect world, only those with the ability to drive safely would enjoy the right to drive. With no sure way to identify when a driver becomes unsafe, the questions surrounding elderly drivers will persist.

Source: Slate, "Give Me the Keys, Dad," by Emily Yoffe, 7 March 2012

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