The senior population in the United States is increasing. In 2010, the number of Americans over the age of 65 was 40.3 million, according to the Census Bureau. By 2019, it has increased to 54 million. By 2040, the number of older adults across the U.S. is expected to exceed 80 million, or one in five Americans.
Part of it has to do with advancements in medicine. People live longer because they are taking vaccines that protect them from life-threatening illnesses. Treatments have improved to give ill patients a longer and better quality of life. Moreover, people are now more conscious of their health and can therefore make healthier decisions.
However, there is concern over their safety. Baby Boomers are aging actively. They enjoy socializing, and they travel a lot. While age is not an accurate indicator of a person’s ability to drive, certain health conditions, which are common among seniors, might influence their control of the wheel.
Even car insurance companies discriminate against seniors; they are often given higher rates because they are seen as near-sighted, forgetful, and have slower reaction times.
What Do Statistics Say?
There were about 45 million licensed drivers above the age of 65 in 2018. Of that number, more than 250,000 senior drivers were treated in emergency rooms for injuries incurred during a car crash. Almost 7,700 older adults were killed in traffic accidents.
Being on the road will always come with danger, but the elderly are more at risk of death because of a crash. Their bodies are more fragile compared to a 20- or 30-year-old. The whiplash caused by the force of the collision may be too much for their bodies.
Experts point that age-related changes such as declining vision and reduced cognitive functioning may impair a person’s ability to drive.
Accidents involving senior drivers are more complex. Typically, the owner of the vehicle will be at fault. However, with elderly people, other factors need to be considered. If the driver, for example, has a health condition that prevents them from driving safely, a legal guardian may be implicated for allowing the senior to be on the road. A car accident lawyer will be able to guide victims to determine liability and press charges.
How Can the Government Address the Issue?
Japan has one of the oldest populations in the world. What the country is doing to decrease road accidents might help inform the U.S. and other nations on how to handle traffic accidents involving seniors.
Right now, Japanese drivers over the age of 75 have to take a cognitive test every three years to get their license renewed, a measure that seeks to ensure that the driver is still mentally competent to quickly react to a dangerous situation. There are also incentives for senior drivers to give up their cars, such as taxi and bus fares. However, public transport is not always accessible to people, especially in rural areas. Moreover, if given a choice, most will still prefer to drive their own vehicles.
Last year, there was a proposal to allow senior drivers to drive only vehicles that have automatic braking systems.
Japanese car and tech companies have also been ramping up the development of driverless taxis that can give seniors mobility and independence for as long as they want. Japan has been testing driverless cars on public roads in seaside towns and other rural areas since 2016. There was also an earlier proposal to use driverless taxis to ferry athletes to sports venues for the (canceled) 2020 Summer Olympics.
While driverless cars are still not available, Japanese manufacturers are working on designing vehicles that will suit the needs of seniors. Toyota, for example, recently launched a very compact electronic vehicle that has a top speed of just 37 mph. It is suited for elderly drivers who only need to make short trips to see loved ones, go to the store, etc.
The World Health Organization’s Alana Officer agrees that continued driving education and assistive technologies can enable senior drivers to remain safe on the road despite age. They also suggested occupational therapy for seniors who may have movement limitations such as osteoarthritis, which can prevent a person from moving their heads to turn left and right.
Giving up driving is difficult for some people because it limits their movement. Despite the risks, governments should not outright ban senior drivers from traversing the road. After all, recent studies have proven that young drivers are more prone to accidents. Governments should, instead, find innovative solutions that can keep the elderly population safe without taking their driver’s license and, therefore, their independence away.