An elder man driverAccording to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, elderly drivers only account for about 9 percent of the population, but accident statistics show that they account for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities and 17 percent of all pedestrian fatalities. Illinois car accident lawyers commonly see serious injuries caused by elderly drivers behind the wheel.

Elderly Drivers and Car Accidents

A recent report by AAA and Carnegie Mellon University revealed that the rate of deaths involving drivers 75 to 84 years of age is equivalent to fatalities involving teen drivers. When elderly drivers are over 85, accident fatality rates increase to four times that of teenage drivers. Many of these accidents happen unexpectedly in large crowds of people where pedestrian injuries are high.

Recently in Los Angeles, a driver who was 101 years old backed out of a parking lot near an elementary school ,plowing into 11 people, including nine small children. Fortunately, no one died as a result of the incident, but there were serious injuries.

In another California incident, an 86-year-old driver who suffered from severe arthritis, reduced mobility, and nausea from medications, struck another car, then accelerated, crashing through wooden barricades that were blocking traffic through an outdoor farmer’s market. The driver sped through a crowded marketplace, killing 10 people and seriously injuring 63 more before his vehicle was brought to a stop. The investigation revealed that the driver accidentally placed his foot on the gas pedal instead of the brake pedal.

Annual reports of car accidents, serious injuries, and fatalities caused by elderly drivers highlight the challenge that aging drivers and their families face in deciding when it’s time to get off the road. It raises a serious question for an aging population – how old is too old to drive?

The Impact of Aging Behind the Wheel

When someone has been driving their entire adult life, they’re often reluctant to hand over their car keys, even if they realize that their driving skills are impaired. For many elderly adults, the loss of driving privileges represents a loss of independence, a complex emotional issue for many senior drivers.

According to studies on the aging, many senior drivers don’t realize that their their hearing, eyesight and reflexes aren’t as sharp as they used to be. Many drivers with Alzheimer’s or rheumatoid arthritis, or who are taking medications, suffer from impaired judgment, memory loss, and lack of coordination — all of which impact driving skills. As a result, they often run stop signs and red lights, forget to signal for a turn, and confuse the gas pedal with the brake pedal. There are numerous reports of elderly drivers crashing into store fronts because they hit the gas instead of the brakes. Illinois car accident lawyers represent many elderly drivers who have had these experiences.

In some cases, legal action may be necessary to get an elderly driver to surrender his/her license. When elderly drivers present dangers on the road, consequences can be serious, and family members or friends are often forced to step in because drivers don’t recognize their own driving impairments. Although laws vary from state to state, Illinois car accident lawyers are well-informed on laws that impact Illinois elderly drivers.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and organizations like Aging Care offer helpful advice to elderly drivers and their families, so they can evaluate when it’s time to stop driving:

  • Get regular eye checkups with a qualified optometrist. Changes in vision due to age and more serious conditions like glaucoma and cataracts can significantly diminish eyesight and impair driving ability.
  • Evaluate body strength, mobility and dexterity with a physician. Elderly drivers, especially who get no physical exercise, often shrink so much in height that they can no longer see over the windshield.
  • Evaluate impaired driving ability due to medications. Elderly drivers who take multiple medications have a higher risk of impaired driving functions. A physician should advise elderly patients of medication dangers while driving.
  • Exercise extra caution with certain medical conditions. Alzheimer’s can impair judgment, concentration and memory. Diabetics face an increased risk of falling into a coma while driving.
  • When driving, plan the safest route with well-lit streets. Avoid freeway driving when possible. Drive during daylight hours and in good weather. Avoid driving at night and in inclement weather conditions when visibility is limited.
  • When driving, avoid distractions in the car like listening to a loud radio, eating or drinking, talking on a cell phone, and texting. Illinois car accident lawyers see numerous car crashes caused by drivers using a cell phone while behind the wheel.

The National Council on Aging encourages elderly drivers who are disabled or struggling with safe driving to consider alternatives to driving, such as riding with family members and friends or using public transportation to get to a destination.

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