In August of 2012, Preston Carter, a Los Angeles centenarian (he was 100 years old at the time of the accident), injured nine children and two adults when he backed his car onto a sidewalk. The injuries were serious but thankfully, no one died. Mr. Carter simply misjudged what he was doing. He thought he was turning onto a street instead of backing onto a sidewalk full of parents and children buying snacks from a sidewalk vendor. According to the Los Angeles Times, Mr. Carter had a valid driver’s license and a clean record. The LA Police Department did not file any charges but they did look into his competency to keep a driver’s license.
This incident and others like it raise the question, “When does a person become too old to drive?” This isn’t an easy question to answer nor is there a one size fits all answer. There are a number of factors that come into play regarding our older drivers including;
- Mental acuity & judgment
- Reflexes & physical ability
Beyond these factors there are some interesting insurance related issues, as well as, state laws on the frequency of license renewals. Factor in availability of public transportation along with the explosion of boomers moving into the ranks of age 65 and older and this issue becomes muddled quickly.
Elderly Driving Factors: Our bodies deteriorate as we age no matter how well we take care of them. Eyesight can diminish or become less reliable at certain parts of the day such as at night. Many are aware of their limitations and don’t drive at night when they don’t see as well or during rush hour because of increased anxiety.
Reflexes slow as a person ages and that can prevent them from safely reacting to an emergency situation. Medications can interfere with driving ability both physically and mentally. Then there’s the issue of mental acuity and judgment. In Mr. Carter’s situation, he thought he was turning onto a street when in reality he was backing up onto a sidewalk.
Insurance Factors: Car insurance for elderly drivers can be harder to obtain. Insurance companies are not supposed to discriminate; however, I am aware some carriers “prefer” not to write someone past a certain age. When this pops up, I recommend one of our companies that love to write older drivers and have been able to provide great coverage at competitive rates.
As the population of adults soars in the 65-69 age bracket along with those that are 85 and older, I do believe insurers are going to have to become more flexible on their underwriting guidelines and be willing to write older drivers.
State Laws: There is no consistent set of standards between the States on the matter of renewal frequency or testing drivers to determine who can safely continue to drive. Texas, along with 29 other States and the District of Columbia has some level of requirements for older aged drivers. For Texans the requirements are:
- In-person license renewals and mandatory vision testing starting at 79
- At age 85, drivers must renew their licenses every two years instead of every six years
In other states the ages vary widely; Maryland starts vision testing at age 40 while Georgia starts more frequent renewal periods at age 59. Age is probably the wrong metric but there is no single screening tool that Texas or any other state can use to identify subtle health risks that can impair a driver. Age, therefore becomes at least one way to gauge this.
Here are some interesting numbers that we should take note of.
- In 2012, 34 million drivers were 65 and older
- By 2030, estimates show this number jumping to 57 million
- Drivers 85 and up still have the highest rate of deadly crashes per mile, higher than teen drivers by a factor of over 90%.
If anything, these numbers show that this issue will continue to pop up and grow over the next 17 years.
Seniors can do several things to help themselves be safe drivers. Here are four suggestions worth exploring:
- Talk with your physicians about what medications you’re taking and how they interact with each other. There may be side effects that could lead to impaired driving.
- Exercise regularly and work on ways to maintain flexibility and coordination.
- Take a driver refresher course that is specific to the needs of older drivers.
- The University of Michigan created a self-test to help older drivers detect safety changes with their vision, thinking and mobility.
I’m 54 and while I‘d like to think this issue is farther away than it really is, this is something I can begin preparing for now. I also have parents in their late 70s who are still driving and fiercely independent about it. They aren’t grappling with these issues now but they will at some point. As will I.
What are your thoughts or questions? Share them with me in the comments section of our blog or on our Google + and Facebook pages. I’d love to hear from you!