A recent study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) revealed some bothersome information concerning older drivers. The study revealed that in addition to being the most vulnerable group that is less likely to survive a severe traffic accident, older drivers have a tendency to drive antiquated vehicles that do not contain current and critical safety features.
Although older drivers are living healthier lifestyles and experiencing a decrease in traffic accidents, drivers between the ages of 70 and 80 are still fragile enough to succumb to serious injuries caused by a traffic accident. The study revealed that drivers over the age of 75, for example, are four times more likely to die from a side-impact car accident compared to a middle-aged driver.
Are elderly drivers a risk?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared that there were more than 45 million older adults driving in the United States in 2018. The CDC also reports that about 8,000 older drivers were killed in traffic accidents in 2019. An additional 250,000 older adults were transferred to emergency departments due to accident-related injuries. Statistically, there are more than 20 older drivers that are killed each day and nearly 700 older drivers who are injured.
Of course, part of the reason these accidents can be more serious is because science tells us that as we age, driving becomes more of a challenge. The National Institute on Aging cites the following concerns unique to older drivers:
- Stiff joints and muscles, which can make it difficult to turn one’s neck, hit the brakes quickly, or steer the vehicle away from danger
- Decreased visual acuity and difficulty hearing
- Slowed reflexes, which leads to slowed reaction times
- Increased use of medications that could affect the ability to operate heavy machinery
- Increased risk of dementia and other aging-related illnesses that affect motor skills, cognitive skills, and more
While older drivers are sometimes condemned for the risk of causing traffic accidents, many do not consider the greater risk that older drivers can succumb to if they are the victims of traffic accidents. Their physical vulnerabilities put them at a greater risk of suffering greater injuries in the event of a traffic accident, including death.
One reason for that risk? We shrink as we age. Our muscles lose mass and our bones lose density, and our spinal columns become shorter. This is more pronounced in women than in men, but it happens to virtually everyone. This matters because cars’ safety systems – seat belts, airbags, and so forth – are not built to protect a variety of bodies. It’s why your children require car seats and boosters to keep them safe until they reach a certain height and weight. As our bodies change, the vehicle itself can become more dangerous to us.
Which car accidents are riskiest for elderly drivers?
Any car accident can be especially dangerous for an elderly driver. Among the most common of those accidents are:
- Wrong-way collisions. Wrong-way collisions are some of the deadliest collisions because they usually lead to two vehicles hitting head on. For older drivers, wrong-way crashes can be the result of pedal confusion (hitting the gas when they mean to hit the brake) or mistaking entrance and exit ramps. A recent study by AAA found that drivers over the age of 70 are at a greater risk of a wrong-way accident than younger drivers.
- Rear-end collisions. Rear-end collisions are devious in nature because the injuries from a rear-end collision may not be noticeable until days or even weeks later. The longer these injuries are left untreated, the mor damaging they can be to an elderly victim.
- Side-impact collisions. Side-impact collisions can cause serious injuries to a driver or passenger’s body. The speed and the weight of the vehicle will determine how serious the collision will be. Elderly drivers may be more at risk of injury because of their vehicles: older cars may lack side airbags or electronic stability control, two pieces of safety tech that can reduce the risk of serious injuries.
- Intersection accidents. Intersection accidents are usually side-impact accidents, but what makes them so dangerous is that they often involved multiple vehicles. An elderly driver may not have the reflexes to react in time to avoid being hit.
- Work zone collisions. The National Safety Council (NSC) reports that there were 842 people killed in work zone collisions during 2019, with another 39,100 people injured. The changes in traffic flow around work zones is one of the common causes of work zone collisions. Drivers are expected to suddenly merge into single lanes, adjust their speed, and come to sudden stops. Once again, the reduced reaction time of an older driver can increase the risk of a crash.
How can I help my elderly loved one stay safe while driving?
If it’s time for your parent or sibling (or spouse) to give up the keys, then it is time to make an appointment with a doctor to speak about the risks. If that is not feasible, there are some things elderly drivers can do to be safer on the roads. Make sure your loved one always wears a seat belt as a driver and passenger. Only drive when conditions are ideal; driving when weather conditions are poor or driving at night can increase the possibility of a traffic accident. Make sure their prescription eyeglasses and/or hearing aides (if applicable) are up-to-date.
Some additional steps that older drivers can also take are engaging in some type of routine activity that improves flexibility and strength. This helps older drivers to maintain a level of physical strength needed to operate a vehicle. Older drivers can also plan ahead by planning the best route to travel, and by having a backup plan in case something goes wrong. Older drivers can also check with their physicians to ensure that any current medications they are taking do not have any side effects that affect the ability to drive.
Delius & McKenzie, PLLC proudly protects the rights and families of car crash victims in and around Sevierville, Seymour, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge. We fight hard so you can focus on your recovery. To schedule your no-obligation consultation, please call 865-428-8780, or fill out our contact form. We will be honored to help you and your family get the compensation you need and deserve.
Attorney Bryce W. McKenzie received his JD from University of Tennessee College of Law, and has been a clerk for the Court of Criminal Appeals. He is admitted in Tennessee, Federal Court, and the US Court of Appeals. Read more about Bryce W. McKenzie.