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The Dangers of Seniors Driving

Driving comes with its own risks that can become more challenging the older one gets. While the teen years and early 20s come with inexperience and rash decision making, drivers over the age of 65 have unique circumstances that can impede their ability to drive safely.

In 2017, there were approximately 44 million drivers over the age of 65 in the United States, which is a 63% increase from 1999. That same year, over 7,000 people over the age of 65 died in a motor vehicle accident, and 257,000 were treated for some type of personal injury caused by a crash. Advances in medicine have given people longer life expectancies, and one could assume the number of senior citizens will continue to increase for the next few decades. With the Silver Tsunami phenomenon, projections for the year 2050 are estimated at 84 million people over the age of 65, almost double the number in 2012.

While a longer life is cause for celebration, it’s sobering to hear that elderly drivers are second only to teenagers when it comes to dying from motor vehicle accidents. Drivers over 65 are recorded to be more conscious of their driving habits (avoiding rush hour, driving during daytime hours, obeying speed limits and wearing seat belts, etc.), but that doesn’t negate the fact that age-related vulnerabilities such as heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis reduce the chance of surviving a car accident. Even if an elderly person survives the ordeal, the healing process can be long and difficult, if not altogether life-altering. One example would be for an accident survivor to live in a nursing home during his or her recovery, greatly affecting the victim's lifestyle and independence.

The onset of aging can be very subtle, and given that one’s perceptions towards his or her own capabilities can be rather biased, it's disheartening for anyone to realize they simply aren’t as young as they used to be. Renewing a driver’s license can be one such experience, as many states require individuals to have eye examinations on top of driving tests and paper exams. This isn't without its reasons, though; demographically speaking, people over 40 show an increase of diminishing vision, increasing the likelihood of the person not noticing pedestrians, traffic light changes, and other moving objects within line of sight. The chances of developing near and far-sightedness dramatically increase past the age of 60, making it difficult to recognize familiar places and read traffic signs. Low light conditions, inclement weather (rain, snow, etc.), and the glare from the sun and other vehicles' headlights can impede one's perception.

If vision is difficult to self-assess, then monitoring cognitive functions would be challenging. 80% of Alzheimer's and dementia patients are over the age of 75 - almost 5 million. These diseases target the memory and cognitive functions of the brain, which puts navigation and quick decision making in jeopardy. Seniors with these diseases would be prone to episodes of forgetfulness, having no memory of where they are or what they were doing. Some states even require doctors to report to their department of transportation on a positive diagnosis.

It's not easy having the talk about giving up the car keys, but transparency makes it easier for everyone involved. When people discover that their loved one is taking extra time while driving, is unable to explain long absences away from home after driving, or has mysterious scrapes and dents in the vehicle, it may be time to discuss whether that person is still safe to drive.

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