Last year marked the year that many baby boomers turned 65, and the largest generation of senior drivers owned drivers license. Over the next 20 years the amount of senior drivers on the road is expected to triple. This current rise in the number of elderly motorists on our roads has people wondering: Is this the right time to begin implementing screenings and more driver tests to ensure road safety?
Drivers ages 70 and older have the second highest incidence of traffic fatalities, with 25 deaths per 100,000. While drivers tend to become more cautious and drive slower on the road as they age, there are other age-related driving concerns among drivers who are 65 and older. Impaired vision and hearing, diminished mobility, reduced ability to perceive moving objects, slowed reaction time and side effects of illnesses and medications can reduce the abilities of older drivers.
After 75, the risk of driver fatality in an accident is sharply increased because older drivers are more vulnerable to crash-related injuries and death. Drivers over 75 especially have trouble making left-hand turns, drift within the traffic lane and have decreased ability to change behavior in an unexpected scenario.
Throughout most of the nation, there are no laws that require frequent driver testing, or that ask physicians to report patients who they believe may pose a risk to themselves or other drivers on the roadways. Fortunately, California is one of the few states that have broken that trend. California requires testing for anyone involved in a fatal crash or three or more crashes in the span of one year. The state also requires drivers over 70 years old to retest if they are involved in more than one crash in any given year. Drivers over 70 years old are not allowed to renew their licenses by mail or Internet – they must go to the DMV and prove their mobility. Drivers of the same age group may also be required to take a supplemental driving test if the vision exam is failed.
Additionally, physicians often care for patients whose abilities to operate a vehicle are compromised by a physical or cognitive condition. California state law requires that those physicians who believe that their patient's ability to drive may be impaired are required to refer them to the Driver Safety office. Other people who may refer older drivers are law enforcement officers, friends or relatives.
A number of senior advocate groups are speaking out against these types of practices, calling them age-discriminatory, and that chronological age is not an accurate predictor of driving ability. The California DMV is maintaining its laws and ensures those groups that their rules are only in place to increase road safety and reduce hazards.