When Retirement Approaches, You Should Hang up the Keys
There has been great debate about whether or not people should give up driving in their old age. While many people claim that this practice is discriminatory, there have been countless studies on how aging affects driving…and they all indicate that as people age, they should refrain from getting behind the wheel.
How Prevalent Are Accidents for Older Drivers?
In 2015, there were over 40 million licensed drivers over the age of 65 in the United States. Of these, 6,800 were killed in fatal crashes, and 260,000 were treated in the emergency room for injuries relating to a car accident. To put those numbers in perspective, this equals a total of 19 elderly people killed, and 712 injured every single day across the country. Despite these numbers, they don’t seem to be slowing down. Having 40 million older drivers is a jump of 50% from the numbers seen in 1999.
How Does Aging Affect the Brain?
There are real reasons why older drivers lose their ability to drive safely. They may not have the vision skills they had earlier in life, and their ability to react may be slower. But one of the biggest problems is memory loss.
In a paper published in the medical journal Neuron, a team of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that some brain waves in the elderly do not communicate with each other effectively during sleep, a prime time for the body to create memories. When a younger person sleeps, his brain waves work to turn short-term memories into lifetime memories. As an elderly person sleeps, his brain waves do not always communicate in this way. This condition is especially found in the brains of those suffering from Alzheimer’s, but it can be found in nearly every aging person as well. As the brain ages, it deteriorates. Brain cells die. This is what causes elderly people to forget more easily.
This atrophy doesn’t just prevent an elderly person from remember things like conversations; it also carries over to when he or she is on the road. That lack of memory can cause elderly drivers to lose track of time, go the wrong way, or become so focused on something that they take certain risks. They may be so intent on looking at street signs that they don’t pay attention to other vehicles traveling nearby. Or in their rush to get to an appointment after realizing they’re late, they may increase their speed and inadvertently cause an accident.
How to Tell If Your Loved One Needs to Hang Up the Keys
You may suspect that it’s time for one of your loved ones to hang up the keys, but how can you really tell? In order to be sure, it’s a good idea to watch for some signs and perhaps even take a short trip with your loved one to see how he or she really drives. Some things to keep an eye out for are:
- Other drivers honking multiple times at the elder
- The elder’s inability to remember the route to familiar destinations
- The elder repeatedly talking about people or vehicles that seemed to have “come out of nowhere”
- The elder having a history of accidents, even if minor
- Others, such as doctors or family members, stating concerns about the elder driving
The Arizona Department of Transportation (DOT) has regulations in place pertaining to aging drivers, and mentioning these can be a great way to broach the topic of driving with older family members. The regulations include:
- All drivers over the age of 65 must renew their license in person and cannot do so online.
- All drivers over the age of 65 must take a vision test.
- All drivers over the age of 65 must renew their license every five years. (Those under the age of 65 only have to renew every 12 years.)
- All drivers over the age of 65 who may have a medical condition impairing their ability to drive must notify the Medical Review Program.
- The DOT may perform an unsafe driver investigation when a request has been sent by family members, loved ones, or doctors.
- When an impairment has been reported by local authorities, insurance companies, or loved ones, the DOT may require a practical road test before renewing a driver’s license for a person over 65.
Unfortunately, even with the requirements the Arizona DOT provides, evidence shows that accidents involving the elderly happen, and frequently. When other drivers have been hit by an elderly driver and injured, they may be able to file personal injury claims if that elderly driver was negligent. On the flipside, when an elderly driver is hit due to someone else’s negligence, he or she may file a personal injury claim.
An Arizona car accident attorney can help. At Breyer Law Offices, P.C., we know there’s certainly an increased risk that comes with driving over a certain age. But knowing how to claim compensation when accidents do occur can help all victims, elderly or not. For a free consultation, please call (602) 267-1280.
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