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WASHINGTON, DC, APRIL 4, 2005 - Most older drivers believe that they will know when they should stop driving. But giving up the car keys, along with one's independence and the many benefits of owning a car, is often one of the most difficult decisions an older person must make.
While driving skills vary from one elderly person to another, there are physical and mental changes that accompany aging which can diminish the abilities of elderly drivers. These can include a slowdown in reflexes, muscle strength and agility; vision and hearing impairments; drowsiness due to medications; and a reduction in alertness.
"Many elderly drivers adjust their driving habits as their abilities diminish," says Carolyn Gorman, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute. "They drive fewer miles, avoid complex intersections and stay off interstate highways. But some older drivers are unwilling to make the necessary changes, endangering the lives of themselves - and others," she said. "We know that based on per-miles driven, crash rates for seniors are far worse than any other age group except for the youngest teens."
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2002 there were 19.9 million licensed drivers age 70 and older in the U.S., yet they accounted for 12% of traffic fatalities, 12% of all vehicle occupant fatalities and 16 % of pedestrian fatalities. Collision rates per mile driven increase after age 70 and increase more rapidly after age 80.
Signs that it Might be Time to Retire From Driving
Caretakers should watch for decisive signs of decline in the elderly person's driving abilities such as:
What Can a Caregiver Do?
Numerous states have instituted more stringent license renewal policies for elderly drivers such as more frequent and in-person renewals, eye tests, and driving tests upon reaching a designated age. But for those senior drivers who live in states that do not have this kind of testing, caregivers should consider the following:
"Involve your parent or loved one in the decision to adjust or stop their driving," says Gorman. "Suggest they avoid long distance driving, night driving or expressway driving. Encourage them to leave plenty of time to get where they are going and not to drive alone."
If you suspect that your loved one should stop driving altogether, the Insurance Information Institute has these tips to offer:
If you feel strongly that your parent or family member cannot drive safely and will not stop, consider contacting the local Department of Motor Vehicles and report your concerns. Depending upon state regulations and your senior's disabilities, it may be illegal for them to continue to drive. The DMV may do nothing more than send a letter, but this might help convince your parent to stop.
Other Things to Consider:
Caregivers should also make sure that the parent or family member has adequate auto liability insurance and that coverage doesn't lapse.
"Too often, parents have either too little insurance or may forget to make an insurance payment," says Gorman. "Sadly, if they are involved in a serious auto accident, they could lose everything they've worked so hard for their entire lives."
For more information on older drivers, visit the Insurance Information Institute's web site at www.iii.org.
Other useful information is available on the following web sites: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety at www.aaafoundation.org/home; Administration on Aging, Department of Health and Human Services at www.aoa.dhhs.gov; American Association of Retired Persons at www.aarp.org; American Medical Association at www.ama-assn.org; The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety at www.iihs.org; and the National Traffic Safety Administration at www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
An elderly driver and his passenger were killed February 7, 2005 in Grass Valley, California, after they drove onto Highway 49 in the wrong direction and slammed into two oncoming vehicles.
George Keeler, 87, of Granite Bay, and his 86-year-old passenger, Laura Gleaves, of Auburn, were pronounced dead at the scene by California Highway Patrol officers. The collision occurred at about 4:20 p.m. on Highway 49 between Empire Street and McKnight Way. Keeler reportedly was driving his Ford Ranger pickup truck east on Highway 20 and was attempting to enter Highway 49 and head south. He apparently missed the southbound on-ramp and instead entered the freeway using the northbound off-ramp.
"There were lots of vehicles that saw him and swerved around him," CHP Sgt. Dee Lavrador said. "They honked their horns and he wasn't paying attention."
Keeler sped up to between 50 and 60 mph, according to the CHP. At the same time, Margaret Janes, 24, of Nevada City, was driving her 1997 Suzuki Sidekick north at about 60 mph. After Janes saw the Ford Ranger, she slammed on the brakes and swerved left to try and get around the pickup.
In January 2005, a husband and wife were trapped under a car after an 88-year-old driver backed over them in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart in Pembroke Pines, Florida. Police said Able Pachon, 68, and Josefina Pachon, 65, visiting from Colombia, were walking outside the Wal-Mart when Marie Miller, 88, of Pembroke Pines, backed her 1988 Toyota Cressida over them, critically injuring them. The Toyota then hit a parked Ford Mustang, which hit a Jeep Liberty next to it. Neither car was occupied. Armando Barrionuevo, 29, was loading groceries into his car outside the store at Pines Boulevard and Southwest 184th Avenue just after 3:30 p.m. when the accident happened nearby. He rushed to the Toyota, pulled Miller out and moved the gear shift from reverse to park. Then he tried to free the husband and wife who were trapped underneath.
Tragedy struck a newly married couple on their honeymoon in Hawaii on May 29, 2004 when the wife was killed and seven people, including her husband, were injured in a traffic accident in Honolulu, local police said.
The woman was identified as Hikari Ishiyama, 24, from Kusatsu, Shiga Prefecture. Her 29-year-old husband's name was not immediately available. The couple, who were married a few days ago, and six pedestrians, including two Japanese, were hit by a pickup that ran onto a sidewalk .
A car driven by George Russell Weller, 87, struck and killed 10 people and injured 63 others at a farmers' market in Santa Monica on July 16, 2003. Santa Monica Police Chief James Butts Jr. said at a news conference that after a five-month investigation, authorities believe that Weller hit the gas pedal instead of the brake of his 1992 Buick LeSabre after a minor fender-bender at a nearby intersection, just before his vehicle careered three blocks through the crowded pedestrian market. The only reason his car eventually stopped, Butts said, was because a body trapped beneath the vehicle slowed it down.
"Mr. Weller was conscious throughout the collision sequence; no evidence exists that Mr. Weller attempted to take the car out of gear; there is no indication of braking throughout the entire collision sequence," Butts said.