Skip to main content

Elderly Drivers – Are They a Safety Hazard?

Elderly woman driving a car to illustrate whether elderly drivers are a safety hazard

We’re all getting older and the joy and freedom of driving is something none of us wants to ever think about giving up. Like they say…age is relative. You’re only as old as you feel. Well, it’s actually more involved than that. It’s related to whether or not you’re safe to drive a car, or if you pose a hazard to yourself and others every time you turn on the ignition.

Car insurance companies are fully aware of this dilemma and monitor it carefully. Now, no one really wants to get old or give up something they enjoy doing, especially driving, just because of our age. Unfortunately, the reality is…we’re all going to get there whether we like it or not. And, along with it comes the probability of parking or selling our beloved wheels and the keys being taken away from us. A sad day, indeed, for elderly drivers.

It would be grossly unfair to say that a person who is old shouldn’t drive. We have to take several things into consideration. The first being, a person’s overall driving record. An elderly driver who has a history without tickets or at-fault traffic accidents is considered a lower risk than a driver whose record is filled with violations and minor fender benders. In the latter case, the signs may already be there and a closer watch of that person’s behavior behind the wheel may be in order. Abilities don’t normally decrease overnight — it’s a natural progression and a tell-tale indicator that we’re slowly becoming less functional as we get older. And, there is no rule that gives us the right to drive for the rest of our lives if we can’t do it safely.

That said, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, drivers 70 or older account for less than 1 percent of traffic deaths, generally because they travel fewer miles than their younger counterparts who lead the pack in both accidents and highway deaths. Still, when a 100 year-old man backed his car onto a busy Los Angeles sidewalk in August 2012, hitting 11 people and severely injuring four children, it re-ignited the debate of older drivers and the safety issues they pose to themselves and others.

We often hear and see it on the news – an elderly person drives through the neighborhood dry cleaner’s front window, having mistaken the gas pedal for the brake. Or forgetting the car was in reverse, gunning it, and ramming the car behind them. That’s why it’s important to do a self-evaluation if you have personal concerns about yourself or if you suspect that a loved one may soon need to stop driving. Here are some warning signs:

1. Changing lanes abruptly, hard braking and/or accelerating.
2. Constant “near misses” with other cars.
3. Uneven speed – driving too slow or too fast.
4. Following too closely.
5. Missing or trouble reading road signs. Not noticing traffic lights.
6. Getting flustered – not remembering where they are or where they’re going.
7. Easy to anger – reacting to other driver’s actions uncharacteristically.
8. Unable to focus on driving, conditions, or other drivers around them.
9. Mistaking the gas pedal for the brake pedal on occasion.
10. Limited flexibility. Unable to look over shoulder, abnormally slow reaction time.

In the latest data provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 32.2 million U.S. licensed drivers were age 65 or older in 2008. They estimate that by 2020, that number will surpass 40 million. So, it’s an issue that isn’t going away. Just keep in mind that this will be an extremely difficult time for all involved when the decision is made to take the keys away from an elderly parent or other relative. The loss of your car when you get too old to drive means a loss of self-worth, independence, and freedom. Be gentle. Be aware of the signs that driving a car may be unsafe for them. And, try to have the conversation long before they start exhibiting all the indicators. It will be much easier on everyone.

While you can’t stop from getting old, you can check that you‘re getting the best rate on your car insurance. Why not get a free car insurance quote today?

Ready to Get a Quick Quote?