Older Drivers Face Higher Kansas Car Accident Risk
Three times in as many months last year, an elderly driver crashed into a store front salon - each time at the same Johnson County shopping center. It began with an incident in August, when an 82-year-old woman crashed into the front window of a salon. Then in October, a 74-year-old woman crashed into the salon just a few doors down. Then a couple weeks later, a 76-year-old woman crashed into the front of another salon nearby.
No injuries were reported, but that was just pure luck. Health officials say it's unlikely in these Kansas car accidents that it was the first time these drivers had an issue. In most cases, there are signs and even red flags that older individuals or loved ones should recognize as indicative of the need to either scale back driving or give it up altogether.
That can be a hard sell. For many older folks, driving isn't just a luxury. It's a necessity. It's a lifeline to independence and community connection. Many people are living longer, healthier lives, often continuing to work, volunteer and travel well into their golden years. On the flip side, no one is immune to the inevitable effects of aging that can directly impair a person's ability to safely drive a vehicle.
Why Older Drivers May be Less Safe
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that while safety behind the wheel usually improves as we age (young males in their teens and 20's are the riskiest drivers), we see this change once drivers hit 70. Crashes per vehicle mile traveled begin to rise among drivers over 70, and they spike again sharply when drivers reach the age of 85.
It's estimated more than 3.5 million people Americans over 85 hold a driver's license. That figure is expected to increase dramatically with the "silver tsunami" of the aging Baby Boom generation. It's expected the over-65 population will grow from 46 million in 2015 to 74 million by 2030.
Among the age-related issues that can affect one's driving:
- Joint issues. AAA reports 50 percent of the middle-aged and 80 percent of those in their 70s suffer arthritis, which is a disabling inflammation of the joints. It makes twisting, turning and flexing incredibly painful. Yet these are all movements that are necessary when driving a car.
- Medications. More than three-fourths of people over age 65 report using one or more medication. But few report an awareness of the potential impact of medications on driving performance. Older individuals are more likely to consume painkillers, antidepressants and sleep aids that can impair a person's ability to drive safely. An estimated 30 percent of seniors take at least five medications.
- Dementia/ Alzheimer's Disease. Fourteen percent of people over 71 have some type of dementia, and a third of those over 85 have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
- Other health issues. Conditions like chronic pain, failing vision, hearing loss and diabetic neuropathy can all negatively impact a senior's ability to drive safely.
In general, aging is known to affect one's situational awareness and psychomotor abilities.
Working to Improve Safety
Kansas is one of numerous states that requires more frequent renewal of driver's licenses for the aging population. While the typical renewal interval is six years, those over 65 must renew in person every four years. Further, these drives must be vision-tested in order for the license to be renewed.
It should be noted that many older drivers do compensate for some of these losses by driving more slowly, wearing a seat belt and avoiding traffic during peak hours and at night. On the whole, that makes them safer drivers than teens, but the risk of a Wichita car accident involving senior drivers persist and continue to grow.
Some warning signs that may indicate the need to revisit safety:
- Noticing dents in the mailbox, home or car;
- Difficulty judging spacing and deciding when it's safe to turn;
- Becoming increasingly uncomfortable or nervous while driving;
- Being honked at more by other drivers;
- Feeling that vehicles or pedestrians "come out of nowhere";
- Finding people no longer want to ride with them.
If you are injured in a car accident in Wichita that involved another negligent driver, our injury lawyers can help.