U.S. citizens generally have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But no U.S. citizens have a right to drive, because driving is a privilege in every state. A privilege is something you can do when allowed rather than an absolute right to do that same thing. With many elderly drivers, the aging process and its effects on mental and physical abilities might cause a car accident that requires the assistance of an experienced accident lawyer.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says there were more than 45 million seniors who are age 65 and over and licensed to drive in 2018. That number is about 60 percent higher than in 2000 and illustrates the growing numbers of senior drivers in the United States. The nation never had more senior drivers and will continue to see those numbers rise as more Baby Boomers turn 65 over the next few years.
Aging Could Erode Safe Driving Skills
With more seniors than ever on the nation’s roadways, concerns become more prominent regarding the gradual effects of aging on older drivers. Among the most obvious concerns are seniors who suffer from dementia and similar cognitive conditions that affect their ability to drive safely. Others often experience worsened eyesight and slower reaction times that could have a greater impact on their abilities to drive safely than many realize.
Because driving is a privilege and not a right, the question of just how old is too old to drive becomes a valid concern. That is especially true when anyone’s ability to safely operate a car and navigate the roads is compromised by physical ailments and other conditions. With seniors, a combination of mental decline and physical deterioration can make driving much harder than when younger.
Worsening eyesight, weaker bodies, and slower reaction times could make driving at night, over long distances, or in bad weather much harder for many seniors. Many seniors are perfectly competent and safe drivers, but CDC data indicates the aging process has a truly deadly effect on many senior drivers.
Higher Crash Death Rates for Elderly Drivers
The CDC says about 7,700 adults aged 65 and over died in traffic accidents in 2018. More than 250,000 more suffered injuries that required treatment in a hospital emergency room. That comes out to an average daily death toll of about 20 senior citizens and another 700 injured from car accidents on U.S. roadways in 2018. And the CDC says those numbers are likely to go up.
By comparison, the CDC says that senior citizens are suffering much higher traffic fatality rates than their middle-aged counterparts. The older the driver, the more likely he or she will become injured or worse in a traffic accident. Especially vulnerable are male drivers who are 75 or older.
The CDC says part of the problem is senior citizens are more vulnerable to suffering injuries and related issues because of car accidents. Contributing factors include increasingly poor vision, reduced mobility, and cognitive decline that can make it much harder for a senior citizen to safely drive on public roads. Even prescription medications might disorient a senior driver or otherwise impair his or her ability to drive safely.
When the physical effects of aging make it virtually impossible to perform basic driver safety, such as checking blind spots and looking out of the back window while backing up, the potential grows for injury accidents to occur. Physical and mental deterioration also can make it harder to abide by traffic controls and drive safely at night or in heavy traffic.
Intersections Produce Problems for Senior Drivers
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says intersections pose the greatest problem for senior drivers. About 58 percent of drivers who are age 80 or over did not yield the right of way while at intersections at least once during recent outings. About 37 percent of senior drivers between the ages of 70 and 79 likewise failed to yield the right of way while at intersections.
The IIHS says that numbers improve among younger drivers. About a fourth of middle-aged drivers between ages 35 and 54 failed to yield the right of way while at an intersection. That is still a significantly high percentage, but it is less than half that of drivers over age 80.
Pennsylvania Laws for Older Drivers
In Pennsylvania, the number of drivers aged 65 or over was about two million in 2018. That number also is expected to rise over the next decade. As federal transportation agencies affirm, senior drivers are prone to suffering injurious and deadly accidents. The older they get, the higher the risk of an accident.
Pennsylvania proactively monitors older drivers and helps to ensure they are in good physical condition to maintain driving privileges. Licensed drivers in Pennsylvania who are age 45 and older are subject to random checks to ensure they are physically capable of driving safely.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) randomly requires motorists over age 45 to undergo vision testing and physical examinations when renewing their driver’s licenses every four years. The checkups ensure older drivers are in good physical shape to safely operate vehicles on public roads.
Pennsylvania also requires medical doctors and others who provide medical services to notify PennDOT whenever a patient is diagnosed with a condition that could make driving dangerous. If the condition would create a potentially dangerous driver, the doctor or other medical professional is bound by law to report the condition. Failure to do so might lead to liability issues if a patient causes a car accident that injures or kills others because of the medical condition.
In some situations, PennDOT officials might limit or otherwise restrict an elderly driver’s privileges because of his or her physical condition or other relevant health matters. Renewal time might include a road test to affirm the elderly driver can operate a vehicle safely on public roads and a physical fitness test.
Potentially Limited Driving Privileges
Because driving is not a right, it is possible to lose the privilege owing to health concerns. Many seniors greatly rely upon their vehicles to go to doctor appointments, get groceries, and visit family. Therefore, limiting or possibly revoking a well-intentioned senior’s driving privileges never is an easy and simple decision to make.
Instead of revoking driving privileges for elderly drivers who have a decreased ability to drive safely, PennDOT might limit the motorist’s driving. Instead of unrestricted driving privileges, PennDOT might require a senior to drive during the day, have outside mirrors on both sides of his or her vehicle, and do no driving after sundown.
PennDOT could limit the geographic region in which an elderly driver can operate a vehicle or require the driver to wear hearing aids. PennDOT also could place medical restrictions on the motorists driving privileges and list those restrictions on his or her license.
PennDOT generally prefers enabling seniors to continue driving legally and without unreasonable restrictions on their driving. Although senior drivers might be prone to mistakes at intersections or while driving at night, most are safe and responsible drivers, which is why they still are licensed to drive at advanced ages.
Philadelphia Car Accident Lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC, Advocate for Accident Victims
If you or someone you know is the victim of a car accident caused by an elderly driver or another person, the Philadelphia car accident lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC, can help to present the best case. Call us today at 215-569-8488 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Abington, and Media, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware; and Haddonfield, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout the surrounding areas.