It’s one of the toughest topics to broach with an aging parent or relative: When is it time to hand over the keys and give up the car? Some of the saddest cases we deal with here as experienced Baltimore County accident injury lawyers involve senior citizens who should not have been behind the wheel. In the blink of an eye, they make a mistake that causes a serious or fatal motor vehicle crash. Those cases are tragic for everyone involved, including the elderly person driving.
As the Baby Boomer population ages, traffic safety advocates here in Maryland and at the national level are taking a harder look at preventing accidents among drivers aged 65 and older.
A recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report notes that traffic crash statistics, broken down by driver age, resemble a U. Teenage drivers comprise the group that causes the most car accidents, then crash statistics level out across adulthood. However, accident statistics begin to rise dramatically again for drivers ages 70 and up. NHTSA reports that…
“In 2011, 5,401 people age 65 and older were killed and 185,000 were injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes. These older individuals made up 17 percent of all traffic fatalities and 8 percent of all people injured in traffic crashes during the year…”
The new NHTSA study looked at reasons why driving abilities can decline over age 65, along with licensing procedures for seniors in all 50 states. Some of the factors that can lead to older drivers getting in serious auto crashes include…
- Decreased cognitive and motor functioning abilities (including hand and arm movements, and ability to safely apply gas and brakes)
- Decreased reaction times
- Medical conditions
- Changes in eyesight
- Medications that can cause drowsiness or confusion
The NHTSA report examined how state licensing procedures might better screen for changes in senior citizens’ abilities to operate a motor vehicle safely. Only a few states require in-person license renewal and testing for older drivers. The study looked closely at states with licensing program features not widely in place elsewhere, such as anonymous reporting of potentially dangerous drivers (including physician immunity), Rules of the Road classes for seniors, free ID cards for seniors surrendering their licenses, and medical review units at licensing sites.
The Maryland Department of Transportation, Motor Vehicle Administration, notes that…
- Maryland has close to 708,000 residents age 65 and over (12% of the population), and over 98,000 age 85 and over (2% of the population). Most reside in Baltimore, Montgomery, and Prince George’s Counties and Baltimore City.
- As of early 2012, Maryland has 604,487 licensed drivers ages 65 and over.
These numbers are expected to increase further as our own Baby Boomers become older drivers. However, the Maryland MVA states: “Age alone does not make unsafe drivers, and licensing is NOT determined by a diagnosis. If someone questions whether you are medically qualified to drive, MVA focuses on functional ability…not age or disease…and provides an individual review on fitness to drive.” (See links to Maryland MVA below for more information.)
The NHTSA study found that many seniors understand the reasons for programs governing driver’s license renewal, as no one wants to be involved in, much less cause, a serious motor vehicle accident. Still, driving is tied directly to a person’s independence, and families often struggle with knowing when to ask a loved one to give up their vehicle.
More programs in Maryland and across the U.S. will need to address this thorny subject as a public safety concern, for the sake of our seniors and all other motorists who share the road with them.
Related Maryland Car Accident Attorney Article:
Baltimore County Driving Safety: No. of Older Drivers in Maryland to Ramp Up by 2025 (June 2010)
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
Licensing Procedures for Older Drivers (Report No. DOT HS 811 833) Sept. 2013 (PDF)
Traffic Safety Facts 2011 Data: Older Population April 2013 (PDF)
Maryland Department of Transportation, Motor Vehicle Administration:
Older Driver Traffic Safety Facts
Additional Resources for Older Drivers