When is it time to call it a day on getting behind the wheel? Record numbers of people are now continuing to drive in their advancing years, which should come as no surprise. After all, being able to drive plays a huge role in a person’s freedom, and their ability to remain independent. But older drivers can present a significant car accident danger, to both themselves and others on the road, if they refuse to hang up their keys when they should. People are living longer, and statistics released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicate that individuals are now outliving their ability to drive safely by 7-10 years. This means that older drivers need to be aware of their capabilities and be proactive in retiring from the roads – or risk causing a serious accident.
There are now more than 30 million people aged 65 or older with current driving licenses in the United States – an increase of around 50% over the past 20 years. Unfortunately, it is a fact of life that our bodies will begin to fail as we get older. Some of the skills that naturally diminish as we age include our eyesight, coordination, and reflexes, which are vital to driving safely. Other factors which can make older drivers unsafe behind the wheel include diseases such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, as well as taking medication. There is no age cut-off for driving, because everyone ages differently, and older people should be able to drive for as long as they can do so safely. But it is important to know when to stop.
The Law for Older Drivers
When a driver hits the age of 70, they must renew their license by law. Other regulations vary by state, but many states require more frequent renewals for people over the age of 70. In California, drivers aged 70+ are required to renew their license in person at a DMV office. They will be given a vision exam to make sure their eyesight still meets requirements, and may also have to take a short version of the written test.
Efforts have been made previously to introduce stronger testing regulations, including mandatory road tests for older drivers renewing their license once they reach a certain age. However, these efforts have consistently failed in the face of strong opposition from groups such as the American Association of Retired Persons, and an unwillingness from politicians to push for change.
Retiring from the Road
Making the decision to stop driving can be difficult and emotional. But it can also save lives. Statistics from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show that drivers aged 85+ are responsible for the highest fatal accident rate per mile. Crashes are also far more likely to prove fatal to those involved who are aged 70 or older.
In an ideal world, older drivers will recognize when the right time comes for them to give up driving for good. If that does not happen, the responsibility falls to the person’s family, their doctor, or the DMV to step in and make the decision for them. No matter how the process unfolds, it can be difficult for both the driver and their family to deal with. But is far better than the alternative of seeing an innocent motorist or pedestrian injured or killed by an unfit driver.