Remember how exciting it was to get your first driver’s license? It wasn’t the prospect of getting from point A to point B faster than walking or riding a bike that excited you. No, you were thrilled about the freedom and independence afforded by your new license and the opportunity to drive wherever you wanted to go. Now imagine losing your license, or being forced to question your ability to drive safely. Many seniors and their loved ones struggle with this prospect every day. And, the loss of freedom and independence that comes with it.
I recently participated in an interesting seminar about senior driving safety at the Gables at Winchester. The featured speaker was Michele Ellicks from the Registry of Motor Vehicles. I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you what I learned at the seminar, together with some research I have done on my own since then.
Statistically, people actually drive better as they get older… up to a certain point. Overall crash rates for mature drivers are relatively low, in part because many seniors take precautions such as driving only during the day, staying home in bad weather and avoiding rush hour. And let’s be honest—weren’t you a little more reckless behind the wheel when you were 18, 20, 23? You are certainly more experienced now, and considerably wiser.
However, drivers age 70 and above have higher crash rates per mile driven than middle age drivers. The rate of fatalities increases slightly after age 70 and significantly after age 85. Medical conditions, medication usage and reduced physical function can increase the risk of accidents and injury among older adults. Although older persons with health issues can certainly be satisfactory drivers, they have a higher risk of injury or death in an accident, regardless of fault.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has taken some steps to address the problem of senior driving safety. For example, as of September 30, 2010, drivers 75 years of age or older can only renew a driver’s license at an RMV Service Center or AAA office. Medical providers are not subject to prosecution for HIPAA violations when reporting medical information to the RMV in cases where the provider thinks the patient may be an unsafe driver. In addition, anyone can write a letter to the RMV to say a person should not have a license to drive.
Are you worried about your ability to drive safely, or that of a senior you love? In my next post I’ll discuss the signs of unsafe senior driving and the options available to seniors who have lost their license or decided it is best to avoid driving altogether.