Senior drivers tend to not speed as much as other drivers, avoid night time driving, and have fewer distractions behind the wheel than younger drivers. These are all commendably safe driving practices that don’t get enough attention. However, a fatality collision near Ridgefield, Washington on February 28th has put renewed focus on the matter of what age is too old to get behind the wheel.
The accident, which occurred near Ridgefield, Washington just before 2 pm, involved an 84 year-old Vancouver man who drove at least a mile in the wrong direction on Interstate 5 before crashing into another car head-on. Crash scene photos can be found here.
The collision killed a six year-old boy from La Center in Clark County. Injured in the collision were a 10 year-old boy who was airlifted to a Portland hospital, the 84-year old driver, and a 32-year old woman driving the car he struck whom were both treated at a Vancouver hospital.
A Look at Crash Statistics
Studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) show a sharp spike in the rate of fatality accidents for drivers 70 and older. Drivers in their mid-80s or older have even higher rates. A 2008 IIHS study showed that drivers 70 and older were 3.2 times more likely to be in a fatal accident than drivers aged 35-54. Drivers over 80 were 4.3 times as likely to be in a fatal collision than drivers 35-54.
While senior accident fatality rates have improved considerably in recent decades as Americans are living longer, it remains a public safety issue. While age alone doesn’t necessarily mean a declining driver ability, health conditions and medical emergencies are a bigger factor with seniors. Some elderly drivers stubbornly continue to get behind the wheel when they shouldn’t be driving.
Senior Driving Laws and What Can Be Done
Laws relating to senior drivers vary considerably by state. In Washington, drivers must renew their licenses every five years. Once a driver is 65, the state requires renewals to be done in person. This allows licensing officials to observe a driver’s health and look for signs that could affect driving ability.
A person’s health can change considerably in a five year period. Aside from legislative changes, looking for signs of declining physical health and slower ability to process information or other cognitive health deterioration are two things we can do to help keep drivers who shouldn’t be operating a vehicle off the roads.
There a number of alternatives to having to get behind the wheel. Senior services are offered in a number communities helping to keep seniors active and mobile.