Why older drivers get into car accidents

By Jim Motavalli / Mother Nature Network

Published Jan 17, 2014 at 12:06AM

AARP’s 10 signs to surrender the keys

Signs that an older driver should turn over his or her car keys:

• Almost crashing, with frequent “close calls.”

• Finding dents and scrapes on the car, on fences, mailboxes, garage doors, curbs, etc.

• Getting lost, especially in familiar locations.

• Having trouble seeing or following traffic signals, road signs, and pavement markings.

• Responding more slowly to unexpected situations, or having trouble moving their foot from the gas to the brake pedal; confusing the two pedals.

• Misjudging gaps in traffic at intersections and on highway entrance and exit ramps.

• Experiencing road rage or causing other drivers to honk or complain.

• Easily becoming distracted or having difficulty concentrating while driving.

• Having a hard time turning to check the rear view while backing up or changing lanes.

• Receiving multiple traffic tickets or “warnings” from law enforcement officers.

Source: AARP.org

We’ve all been there — having to tell aged relatives that it’s time to stop driving. With me, it was my grandfather, who was getting the old Chevy out of the garage largely by feel. Its rear quarter panels looked like relief maps of the Himalayas. I think he was scaring himself, so he went along willingly. The National Safety Council even has a report on this: “Time to hand over the keys?”

Actually, some older drivers can probably prolong their time at the wheel, with a refresher course offered by AARP for people 50 and older. (I know, the senior years skew younger every year.)

It turns out that a lot of the problem is turning — a third of all fatal accidents involving seniors take place at intersections, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Some 35 percent of all of their traffic violations occur because of failure to yield, and one in four are due to improper left turns. Neglecting to stop at a traffic signal is the other most common issue.

A AAA/Carnegie Mellon study points out that accident fatality rates climb sharply after age 65. And, eek, look at this: For drivers 75 to 84, the rate of traffic deaths per 100 million miles driven is about the same as it is with teen drivers. For 85 and older, the death rate is four times that of teens.

But let’s point out also that many older drivers have a wealth of experience to draw upon, and a Ben-Gurion University study adds that seniors don’t lose their ability to perceive hazards ahead, and that they’re actually more sensitive to them than young drivers. And they adjust their mirrors.

By 2020, 38 million drivers will be older than 70. Every day, 10,000 people turn 65 — and most of them are still piloting a car. On the road today, 15 percent of all drivers have achieved senior status. For everyone’s sake, we need to keep these folks as sharp as possible.

According to Julie Lee, a vice president of AARP Driver Safety, “Many older drivers haven’t had any kind of refresher course since they took driver’s education when they were 16. Many things have changed since then — roads, vehicles and themselves as drivers. Our course encourages them to look at speeding, running stop signs, merging into lanes, making left-hand turns and sharing roads with motorcycles and bikes — which is much more prevalent today.”

Left turns are problematic, because they put older drivers into crowded situations where they have to navigate across traffic. AARP points out that three right turns will often put you in the same place. And it encourages annual checkups to measure stopping distances and reactions. “We use the three-second rule,” Lee said. “You have to leave enough space between you and the driver in front that you have time to react when something occurs.”