Old age and driving
Statistics show that per mile driven older drivers are over-represented in fatal accidents. Due to their physical frailty they are more likely to be injured in an accident and more likely to die of that injury. When frailty is accounted for and older drivers are compared to younger persons driving the same amount the over-representation disappears. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a senior citizen is more likely than a younger driver to be at fault in an accident in which they are involved. The most common violations include failure to obey traffic signals, unsafe turns and passing, and failure to yield the right of way.
Often, family members of an elderly person, such as one's children, are faced with the responsibility of trying to get them to give up driving. This can be challenging because few senior citizens are voluntarily willing to give up their own car keys. The law in most places allows senior citizens to keep on driving provided they meet the same requirements as younger adults. Some places require persons above a specified age to take certain tests when renewing their licenses, up to and including a road test, or to receive a physician's certificate stating they are medically fit to operate a motor vehicle.
Some senior citizens may continue to be permitted to drive, but with limitations, such as the amount of driving they can do, the hours in which they can drive, or the distance from home they can travel. These restrictions may be placed either by the law or their insurance provider.
Also at issue is determining exactly what age is considered too old to drive. As the process of aging varies from one person to the next, the age at which an elderly person's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle declines varies between persons. This creates controversy in regulating driving in the elderly.
Senior citizens are seen by some as among the safest drivers on the road, as they generally do not speed or take risks, and they are more likely to wear seatbelts.
In some elderly people, senses vital to safe driving, such as vision and hearing, decrease to the point that driving safety is compromised. Those whose vision is impaired may continue to be able to drive safely during daylight, but may have difficulty driving at night. In some persons, corrective lenses may improve the ability of the individual to safely operate a motor vehicle.
Others have decreased physical abilities, such as gross and fine motor skills and reflexes, thereby rendering the driver physically unable to perform at a safe level. These partly explain why an elderly motorist may drive more slowly.
Those whose physical abilities have declined may have difficulty operating the steering or pedals of a vehicle as needed, and therefore may not be able to maneuver the vehicle safely.
Signs of impairment
The following are considered sign that an elderly person's driving may be impaired:
- Confusion while driving somewhere
- Having two or more minor accidents in a short period of time
- Thinking the speed limit is too high
- Others not feeling comfortable riding in a vehicle with the driver
Aging individuals should consider the following questions:
- When you are driving, do objects such as parked cars or pedestrians catch you by surprise?
- Do you have difficulty seeing other cars before the driver honks? Do other drivers honk at you for reasons you don't understand?
- Do you have limited neck rotation?
- Are your reflexes slower and reaction time longer than they used to be?
- Do you ever feel momentarily confused, nervous, or uncomfortable while driving?
- Has a family member ever suggested that you stop driving?
- Do you have low-contrast sensitivity? For example, do you have trouble seeing a gray car at dusk, a black car at night, or a white car on a snowy roadway?
- Is your visual acuity on a 20/20 scale below the minimum level required by your state?
The number of older drivers on the road is growing and bound to increase at a more rapid rate, as more baby boomers become seniors. According to an AARP spokeswoman, by 2030 over 78 million boomers will be 65+, and research shows that men will outlive their driving abilities by six years and women by 10.
Effects of giving up driving
The operation of a private vehicle is essential to life in many places, especially to one's independence. After the loss of their license, an elderly person may be forced to make major lifestyle changes.
Where no public transportation is available, or if the individual does not feel comfortable with public transit, one may seek rides from others, such as family members. Though individuals can find alternative means of transportation, these alternatives may be more limiting than one's own car.
Because giving up driving is viewed by the elderly as a loss of their independence, many may be reluctant to seek out alternative forms of transportation when they are no longer able to drive. The best way for transit providers to meet the transportation needs of most older Americans is to meet the transportation needs of the general adult population. Their needs are similar to other age groups: shopping, getting to work, medical appointments, going to restaurants and visiting friends. Seniors are looking for travel services that provide control, autonomy, and choice. The National Center on Senior Transportation (NCST) states that 83% of older Americans agree that public transit provides easy access to the things that they need in everyday life.
Five A's of Senior-Friendly Transportation
- Availability: This alone is not the solution to transportation challenges for older adults. Most public and community transportation systems require passengers to get to a transit stop or to the curb in order to use their services, and senior-friendly transportation must be different. The same limitations that make it difficult/impossible for seniors to drive also can make it difficult for them to get to the transit stop or the curb, or even to get on or off a vehicle without assistance.
- Acceptability: This suggests senior passenger criteria of comfort and convenience of service. Seniors may have higher standards for transportation because they are used to their personal vehicles. Senior-friendly transportation needs to recognize these standards to which it is being measured.
- Accessibility: Passengers must be able to access the service and the vehicle. The system must take services to the passengers, and offer them assistance and support prior to, during, and following their travel, coined as "door-to-door, door-through-door, and at-the-destination assistance." 
- Adaptability: Calls for the service to meet the assistance needs of older adults. Multi-stop metro and bus rides are more difficult for elderly because they lack flexibility, which is essential for senior-friendly transportation. It needs to be able to accommodate the use of walkers and service animals, also.
- Affordability: Aims for transportation to be affordable to passengers and to the transportation services. Research shows it can cost between $5000 and $7500 a year to own and operate an automobile. However, when older adults can no longer drive, they rarely convert savings in automobile ownership into funds which they can use for another transportation option. Senior-friendly transportation systems have the job to educate the elderly about alternative options, and help them to understand that these costs are not an additional expense, but a substitute for the cost of a personal automobile.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Older Adult Drivers Fact Sheet.
- Kanetix, Seniors & Driving Canadian Statistics.
- Langford J, Methorst R, Hakamies-Blomqvist L. Older drivers do not have a high crash risk — a replication of low mileage bias. Accid. Anal. Prev. 2006; 38: 574-8.
- http://www.axcessnews.com/index.php/articles/show/id/19710 Archived January 7, 2011 at the Wayback Machine