What Age is Too Old to Drive in Oklahoma?
The U.S. population is getting older, and in response, highway safety experts are working to reduce auto crash injuries and fatalities among senior drivers. Unfortunately drivers over 70 are particularly prone to injuries or death in accidents.
There were 35 million drivers age 65 or older in 2012. That year, more than 5,500 seniors were killed and 214,000 injured.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is implementing a five-year plan to strengthen highway safety for elderly drivers. The agency hopes to mitigate the risk factors facing senior drivers.
According to industry data, the number of auto liability insurance claims starts to increase among drivers over 65 years of age. Older drivers are particularly challenged by complex driving environments like intersections and lane merges.
Even though senior citizens do not drive as many miles as younger people overall, seniors spend most of their time behind the wheel in city traffic conditions. Younger drivers spend more time on the freeway or divided highways, whereas seniors often limit themselves to running errands in town. Unfortunately, busy streets are the most dangerous place for any driver, young or old.
One study found that drivers aged 70 and older tended to misjudge the amount of space needed to merge or let another vehicle into traffic, and drivers over 80 often did not even notice another vehicle approaching. In 2011, almost 40% of auto crashes involving drivers 80 and older were multiple vehicle wrecks at intersections.
Age-Related Changes Affect Drivers
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will study senior driving safety issues and plans to recommend policy changes, perhaps even new driving laws, to protect older drivers. Although seniors usually have safe driving habits — including a high rate of seatbelt use and fewer drunk driving accidents — the physical and cognitive changes that come with age can make driving risky. Elderly drivers are more likely to be physically frail than younger people, making crash injuries more likely. Strength, flexibility, vision, hearing, and cognitive acuity tend to decline as people get older, and all of these skills are important for avoiding auto accidents.
Besides beefing up on data analysis of auto wrecks caused by senior citizens, NHTSA is encouraging state law enforcement and motor vehicle departments to consider ways to address older driver safety. Also, the agency is studying new traffic safety technologies, including self-driving cars and in-vehicle crash avoidance systems. NHTSA also established a “silver” rating for new autos to recommend cars that are considered ideal for senior drivers.
Laws aimed at reducing traffic crash deaths and injury accidents have been successful with young, inexperienced drivers and may one day be applicable for senior citizens. Graduated driver licensing laws have reduced teen traffic deaths and injury accidents over the years.
Sweeping Rules May Not Be Fair
Older drivers, however, are usually experienced but may not be able to measure their own alertness and fitness to drive safely. Also, because older people experience varying degrees of health, it is challenging to make policy decisions about older drivers that are fair. The dilemma of how to judiciously protect the public from dangerous senior drivers is a difficult question indeed.
NHTSA is looking for answers and is focused on educating the public and studying the impact of different methods for enhancing the safety of senior citizens on the road. Five years from now, America’s traffic safety and driving laws may look very different for people over the age of 65.
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