Changes advocated in license renewals for elderly drivers

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Senior citizens not only drive more these days, but have sped past teenagers as the age group with the highest number of traffic accidents per mile.

These and other sobering statistics highlight the need for changes in state driver's license renewals to address the risks that elderly drivers pose to other drivers and themselves, David Rosenfield writes in the current issue of the Elder Law Journal, published by the College of Law at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The fastest growing segment of the driving population, seniors make up 9 percent (about 19 million) of the nation's drivers. This figure is expected to jump to more than 30 million drivers by 2020.

Drivers aged 75 and older have a 37 percent higher crash rate than younger drivers, said Rosenfield, an editor at the journal. And because they are more physically fragile than their younger counterparts, senior drivers are more likely to be injured in a car crash. With the exception of teenage drivers, seniors have the highest probability of death resulting from an auto-related accident of any age group.

While age alone does not determine a person's ability to operate an automobile, "evidence suggests that certain characteristics associated with aging impair driving performance," Rosenfield said.

Perhaps the most serious physical disability is the decreased ability of an elderly person to see at night. In addition, studies show that a person's risk evaluation, cognitive capacity and decision-making abilities often decrease with age, which, along with motor ability problems and encroaching dementia, can impair driving performance.

To counteract these physical and mental ailments, many elderly persons take medication.

"In many instances, these medications have adverse side effects" on their driving skills, Rosenfield wrote. "For example, benzodiazepines, commonly taken for anxiety and insomnia, may cause confusion, drowsin

Contact: Mark Reutter, Business & Law Editor
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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