California is one of six states that monitor senior drivers by requiring physicians to report when a driver has become unfit or presents a driving hazard. The state takes this step because some older drivers may be dangerous due to their physical or mental impairments. Now, a recent study indicates that there will soon be more older drivers on the road than ever before, which raises questions about the risks these drivers may present.
“In California, the law requires physicians to report patients who they believe have become unfit to drive or who present a driving hazard,” explained California car accident attorney James Ballidis.
Unfortunately, the law may not do enough to keep the roads safe. In an October video segment on NBC news, many experts questioned whether the reporting system is effective or not since there are no clear guidelines about when a physician should report a patient.
The problem of senior drivers is not a new one, and it is not isolated to California. Senior drivers have long been an unsafe segment of the driving population. This has raised some significant concerns as the baby boomer generation ages.
Recently, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety took a look at the impact of the coming “silver tsunami,” a term they used to describe the rapid aging of the U.S. population:
• The population of potential drivers (anyone in the U.S. ages 15 and over) is growing and will expand by around one-fifth between 2010 and 2030. Although this doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be more drivers since not everyone will drive, it does mean there is the potential for a larger pool of drivers.
• The number of drivers within each age bracket is declining except for those over 65.
• Drivers ages 15-19 have the highest number of insurance claims, which means they have more wrecks or accidents. However, the number of insurance claims and accidents decreases for every age bracket 20 and up until age 65, at which point they begin to increase.
Drivers ages 65 and up, therefore, are going to make up a larger overall percentage of the driving population, accounting for more insurance claims than younger drivers.
Despite the fact that there will be more older drivers, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicated in their recent report that there is no reason to believe that seniors will drive the overall crash rate up. IIHS data indicates that the rate of insurance claims for each 100 vehicles is expected to remain between 6.12 and 6.16. The aging senior population is unlikely to make a difference or substantially increase the rate of accidents.
The IIHS came to this conclusion because the rate of crashes among older drivers, those ages 70 and up, has been declining faster than the rate of crashes among all other drivers. From 1997 to 2008, for example, the fatal accident rate among drivers ages 70 and up declined 30 percent. In other words, while older drivers have traditionally caused more crashes, the number of crashes among this age group is declining at faster rates than the number of accidents among other age groups.
The new IIHS data is reassuring as the composition of the driving population changes and as people age. However, it is important to be aware that seniors can reach a point when driving is no longer advisable. Either the older driver or his or her family members needs to be aware of signs of impairment and to stop driving when things become dangerous. In California, physicians should also continue to report when patients are no longer capable of driving, and there should be clearer guidelines in place for when they are required to report.
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