In the United States in 2014, an estimated 221,000 people, age 65 and older, were injured in motor vehicle accidents and 5,709 were killed. These elderly people comprised 17% of the total traffic-related fatalities that year and 9% of traffic-related injuries. A year later, 4,366 people, age 70 and older, were killed in motor vehicle accidents, which is a 16% increase since 1975.
Older drivers may not be the majority of people in vehicles who are killed or injured in crashes, and that may be due to their relative driving population compared to the rest of drivers. Regardless, their unique driving needs must be addressed to prevent further increases in traffic-related injuries. It is certainly difficult to admit to oneself, but the process of aging can reduce awareness and other cognitive functions that are necessary to drive safely.
Age-related decline in vision, the ability to reason, and the ability to remember can all contribute to vehicle crashes involving elderly folks. Hence, we must consider how to help seniors enjoy continued freedom while helping them drive safely. Sometimes, an older person’s age doesn’t make them more dangerous on the road to others; rather, it makes them more susceptible to injury or death due to fragility.
The National Facts on Older Drivers
In an effort to balance an elderly person’s desire for freedom with the safety of the public, it helps to analyze as many facts and figures as we can regarding older drivers and motor vehicle accidents. Here are some of the numbers to consider.
In 2014, statistics offered the following information:
- Younger people are more likely than people age 70 and older to be licensed to drive.
- Older drivers typically drive fewer miles than younger drivers.
- For every mile traveled, crashes involving deaths start to increase at about 70-74 years of age.
- Fatal crashes are highest among drivers age 85 and older.
In 2015, nation-wide statistics offered the following information:
- 76% of people age 70 who were killed in motor vehicle accidents were occupants in the vehicle, while 16% were pedestrians.
- 59% of motor vehicle fatalities of people age 70 and older were the drivers themselves, while 14% were passengers.
Interestingly, in motor vehicle crashes where at least one driver was age 30 or younger, 39% of deaths were the drivers, 20% were their passengers, and 40% were occupants of other vehicles, pedestrians, or motorcyclists.
Older Drivers in Louisiana
In Louisiana in 2014, older drivers (age 65 and older) involved in fatal traffic crashes comprised 9.6% of the total driver involvement. In 2015, older drivers accounted for 10.9% of total driver involvement in fatal traffic accidents. The percentages that may seem low to some can be attributed to several factors, including fewer older drivers on the road and fewer miles traveled by older drivers. But, even though percentages are lower for older drivers than other ages of drivers, there’s still concern about the ability for these drivers to operate a vehicle safety.
Renewal Requirements for Elderly Drivers in Louisiana
Seniors face stricter renewal processes to ensure their ability to drive doesn’t become impaired.
In Louisiana, special rules apply to drivers who are 70 years and older and wish to continue operating a motor vehicle. For example:
- Drivers age 70 and older must renew their licenses in person
- A vision test for drivers age 70 and older is required in person
- Any citizen familiar with an elderly driver may request an unsafe driver investigation
Renewals for elderly drivers take place in person every four years. A vision test is required at all in-person renewals; in some cases, the exam may be taken at an outside ophthalmologist or optometrist, within 30 days of the renewal request.
Other requirements may include a written test or road test, which is determined by the OMV if there are indications of driver impairment.
License Restrictions for Elderly Drivers in Louisiana
Depending on the driver, the OMV may place specific restrictions on an elderly person’s license. Common restrictions include the following:
- wearing glasses or proper corrective lenses
- driving a car equipped with an automatic transmission
- driving a car equipped with power steering
- driving only when wearing a hearing aid
- restricted nighttime driving
- driving only within a specified radius
- time restrictions
- hand controls on the car, and
- inside and outside rearview mirrors
These restrictions should not incite prejudice toward elderly drivers but are precautionary measures to ensure safe drivers are able to maintain their independence on the road.
How to Reduce Older Driver Risk
Just as we would want to reduce risk in young drivers and middle-aged drivers, we should research ways elderly drivers specifically might stay safer on the roads. Like any other population of vehicle operators, these older drivers can potentially avoid injury and death, to themselves and to others, by
- always using a seat belt in a motor vehicle,
- driving only in safe conditions,
- refraining from driving after drinking,
- exercising regularly in order to maintain flexibility and strength,
- getting vision and muscle response checked annually, and
- reviewing medications with their doctors several times a year to rule out side effects and dangerous interactions while operating vehicles.
Ensuring Safety for Everyone in Louisiana
The Louisianan OMV is obligated to accept information from any familiar source with regard to an elderly driver that may be incapable of properly operating a motor vehicle. To request an unsafe driver investigation in Louisiana, you must first complete a Report of Driver Condition or Behavior.
Doctors or family physicians can also aid a case by completing a Medical Examination Form.
Everyone has a responsibility to ensure senior drivers are complying with the rules and regulations of the road. While most seniors prefer their independence, driving is not a right; it is a privilege.
If you have an elderly family member that drives regularly, it’s wise to monitor their driving behavior frequently to ensure they’re not putting themselves or others at risk. Elderly drivers may unintentionally cause injury to someone else, or suffer a car accident.
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