Elderly Driving: Varied Rules and Regulations Paint a Fuzzy Picture

We’ve all read articles on elderly driving. Should we be concerned? Should states implement standard re-testing requirements at a certain age? Do aging drivers really pose a risk exceeding that posed by any other average driver?

The problem is two-fold. First, states vary pretty drastically in their rules and requirements for senior drivers, so the picture is pretty fuzzy regarding the nation’s perception of elderly driving safety. Not to mention, it’s extremely difficult for many to interpret exactly what the requirements are. Second, accidents involving elderly drivers tend to get a lot of media attention because of the ongoing debate, contributing to the general stigma surrounding older people behind the wheel.

State renewal requirements tougher on older drivers

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 28 states along with the District of Columbia have additional licensing requirements imposed on older drivers (as of November 2012). Typically, these requirements include shorter renewal cycles once a driver hits a certain age — usually 65 or 70 — and in some cases, these drivers must apply for a renewal in person rather than via mail or electronically.

Elderly driving statistics
Image by epSos.de via Flickr[/caption]

Older drivers may also be required to undergo additional tests that aren’t standard renewal requirements for younger drivers, such as vision tests and actual road tests. If a driver’s “fitness to drive” is questioned as a result of the person’s physical appearance when they attempt to renew their license, a history of crashes or violations or reports from police or physicians, some states can require that these individuals undergo a physical and/or mental examination in order to qualify for renewal.

Should a driver be deemed unfit for license renewal, the result can mean an outright denial, revocation, suspension or restriction. Restriction can include limiting nighttime driving, limits to the distance the person is permitted to drive or the requirement to install additional mirrors for added safety.

Motor vehicle crash statistics don’t offer much clarification

Here’s the thing: SmartMotorist.com predicts that the number of elderly drivers (which it defines as individuals age 70 and over) will triple over the next 20 years. But elderly drivers actually tend to become more conservative with age. Still, studies show that elderly drivers are more likely than younger drivers to be involved in multi-vehicle crashes.

The U.S. Census Bureau last conducted motor vehicle crash analysis by age in 2009. In that year, drivers between the ages of 65 and 74 accounted for just 5 percent of all motor vehicle crashes and 7.3 percent of fatal crashes. Drivers 75 and older accounted for 3.3 percent of all motor vehicle crashes and 7.9 percent of fatal crashes.

What’s interesting to note is that other age groups account for a higher portion of both motor vehicle accidents in general and fatal crashes. Drivers between the ages of 25 and 34, for instance, accounted for 19.8 percent of all accidents and 18.3 percent of fatal crashes — substantially higher than that of older drivers.

But it’s logical to speculate that there are more younger drivers on the road, artificially inflating crash rates. When you look at the accident rates per 100 drivers on the road, the result is closer:

Still, there are other confounding variables that aren’t clearly accounted for. For instance, drivers between the ages of 25 and 34 probably have higher DUI rates, and this data doesn’t control for such variables.

Is it necessary — or fair — to impose stricter regulations on elderly drivers?

So what do we do? Aging is a very individualized process. We can’t discriminate against individuals who reach a certain age, knowing that many of those drivers could fall into a category of much higher function than others in the same age group.

The solution, many believe, is to require mandatory re-testing at a certain age and periodically thereafter. But with younger demographics posing a similar risk on the roads, is it fair to target older drivers simply because of their age? Or is the most logical solution to tighten up licensing and renewal requirements across the board?

While the answers aren’t yet obvious, one thing is clear: Elderly drivers on the road will remain a hotly debated issue for the foreseeable future.