On Sunday The Dallas Morning News published an editorial by Emily Yoffe on how we as a society deal with elderly drivers. The quote bellow the headline encompasses her viewpoint, “There’s still no clear personal, societal or policy solution for taking seniors’ keys.” It may seem harsh to some readers, particularly seniors, but there’s a lot of research that Yoffe uses to back up her claim that we simply aren’t doing enough to keep senior drivers from being a danger both to themselves and others on the road.
She uses a poignant story of an elderly couple, the Yeagers, who after being married more than 70 years die holding hands in the hospital after a car crash. Mr. Yeager had failed to stop at a stop sign, and slammed into another couple’s car. The wife of that couple was severely injured and both Yeagers passed away as a result of their injuries. It turns out that there were many signs that Mr. Yeager at age 94 was no longer fit to drive, but neither his son nor the state of Iowa were able to keep him off the road. If they had, the couple might still be alive today.
National and Local Cases
There are countless national stories like this. The tragic accident in 2003 where an 86-year-old George Weller plowed through a California farmers market leaving 10 dead and 63 people injured. There was the story two years ago in Florida where an 81-year-old woman caused a highway accident in which two seniors were killed and more than a dozen injured after she smashed into a bus full of nursing home residents.
Earlier this month in Dallas an 88-year-old driver killed a pedestrian when the senior rear-end a park car. The parked pick-up flew into the pedestrian who was standing outside of the parked car. It’s not just this month, think back on what we’ve seen this whole last year – there was the elderly driver who killed a senior customer when she smashed into a hearing aide store and the elderly driver who could have killed someone when she crashed through Jimmy’s Food Store.
Elderly Driving Habits
As the baby boomers get older, senior drivers will make up a growing proportion of all the drivers on the road. While it’s true that senior drivers are less like than other driving groups to speed or drive drunk, they are dangerous in other areas. For example, intersections are particularly challenging for the elderly. Half of the fatalities in accidents involving senior drivers take place in intersections where either the driver misjudged whether it was safe to proceed or in some cases, simply failed to see another car altogether.
Teens vs Seniors – Where are the risks?
The risk of teen drivers versus elderly drivers is a classic debate. Teen still have a higher collision rate per mile traveled than any age group, but it’s not all about the number of collisions. It’s also about the severity of the accidents. So while teens are in more accidents, octogenarians have the highest fatal collisions rate per mile traveled. The most important idea that is too often missing from the teen versus senior driver debate is this – when a teen is in an accident, he or she learns and matures into a greater driver. When an elderly person is an accident, it’s most likely that this is the beginning of a decline not a simply a hiccup on the way to being a great driver.
One of the hardest things about fatalities related to senior driving, is that the deceased is most likely to be another elderly person. Too often the victim of a senior’s negligent driving is themselves or one of their elderly passengers.
The article points out that different states, insurance companies and organizations have tried a variety of different strategies to ensure the safety of elderly drivers. The best case scenario: self-recognition. The best cases are when seniors have the wisdom and strength to set their own realistic limits for driving. This could take the form of realizing that nighttime driving isn’t a good idea anymore or agreeing not to drive longer distances.
The good news is that statistics show us that the people are getting increasingly more aware of their limits as they age. This is exactly the right path.
Whether we get there through family conversations, discussions with personal physicians or even helpful but restrained influence from state-wide government, the goal is safety.
Please speak with your elderly loved ones about their driving habits as they age. You could end up saving their life or the life of someone else.