Elderly Drivers

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December 05, 2012
Edward Smith

Information on the pros and cons of elderly drivers can be obtained through contacting the National Motorists Association. It has a policy statement on elderly drivers which states that the main cause of driving accidents among the elderly is not related to poor vision, stiff joints, poor motor skills or worn-out pacemakers. Instead, drivers who are elderly and who cause motor vehicle accidents do so because they have problems with judgment, understanding and memory. Many, in fact, are suffering from various stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

For these reasons, the NMA doesn’t support frequently retesting the elderly, nor do they believe in placing age-based restrictions on the elderly, because it has been found to be ineffective in finding those elderly drivers most likely to cause a motor vehicle accident.

Instead the NMA believes that there should be some system in place that evaluates the driving ability of the elderly person who for other reasons has come to the attention of the licensing agency. This can include referring individuals who have had a number of recent driving offenses or accidents within a short period of time.

For example, if a license holder of any age suffers three separate at-fault accidents or three separate traffic incidents resulting in a ticket over a period of six months, that individuals should be required to be evaluated with a comprehensive test that can assess motor skills and judgment in a driving setting.

It’s possible that family members can refer a loved one who has had three separate offenses within a short period of time or for the court to intervene and mandate the use of comprehensive testing in any individual it deems possibly unsafe as a driver on the road. If this evaluation reveals that the individual suffers from a severely diminished physical or mental capacity, the driving agency can revoke the driver’s license.

If, on the other hand, the driver is found to just have bad luck or a short term emotional disturbance such as a loss of a job, death in the family or divorce, the person would go back to the regular system in order to deal with the aftermath of their multiple accidents or traffic violations.

One study looked at the abilities to see hazards among the elderly driving population, both experienced drivers and inexperienced drivers, particularly with regard to being able to see pedestrians in the area. The elderly were subjected to two tests — viewing videos of traffic situations that required them to recognize and respond to hazards, and actually using a driving simulator.

What was found was that elderly drivers had a longer time to respond to the detection of a hazard or pedestrian. In half of the videos it was found that the elderly drivers had greater difficulty recognizing the hazards than did non-elderly drivers. The elderly drivers were found to have limitations in their field of vision especially when they were tested against hazards that weren’t located the center of their view. The elderly driver drove 20 percent slower than regular drivers, possibly because they recognized their other driving limitations.