Elderly Driver Car Accidents

Advancing age can bring impairments that affect driving ability. Age-related changes in reaction times, vision, medical conditions affecting the heart, eyes, muscles, and brain, and the medicines used to treat those symptoms, can affect fitness to drive. The effect of aging on driving ability is not consistent. Some people are safe drivers as they approach 100 while others are unsafe before 60. Statistically, however, drivers over 70 have higher crash rates per mile traveled than middle-aged drivers, though not as high as young drivers.

  • Vision. Aged-related changes in vision are common through not universal. Presbyopia affects close vision used in reading, etc., but has relatively little effect on driving. Driving is affected by other vision changes that become more common in advanced age such as cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, reduced pupil size, dry eyes and loss of peripheral vision. Georgia requires drivers age 64 and older[1] in renewing a driver’s license to take and successfully complete an in person vision screening. The minimum acceptable vision for a non-commercial license is 20/60 in one eye, with or without corrective lenses, and a field of vision of at least 140 degrees.
  • Reaction times. With aging, there comes a general slowing of physical reaction times. This is due to excessive ‘cross-talk’ between the two hemispheres of the brain[2]. This cross-communication passes through the corpus callosum which can act as either a bridge or a dam between brain hemispheres. This is important to certain cognitive functions and two-sided motor skills and. But in one-sided motor skills requiring strong focus from only one side, the corpus callosum switches roles and serves as a sort of dam between brain hemispheres. With aging, breakdowns occur in the corpus callosum, allowing increased cross-talk between hemispheres of the brain. When the two hemispheres of the brain talk simultaneously as one side of the body tries to move, slowed responses and confusion can occur.
  • Medications. Either taking medications or not taking required medications can affect driving ability. Older people may take both prescription and over-the-counter medicines that can affect the ability to drive safely[3] by making a person feel tired, dizzy, drowsy or nauseated. Medications that treat depression, anxiety, stress, sleeping problems, heart disease, and muscle spasms can also cause problems. Moreover, when one is required to take medication but does not, that may seriously affect attention, alertness and reactions.
  • Diabetes. The incidence and symptoms of diabetes can increase with advanced age[4]. That can make a person’s blood sugar levels too high or too low, so that one feels sleepy, dizzy, or confused. It can also result in a loss of consciousness or a seizure.
  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. People who lose cognitive function due to dementia or Alzheimer’s may not realize they are no longer safe drivers. They might get lost, even in familiar places, and need lots of help with directions. However, they may angrily insist that they are as competent and capable as ever. This often presents an agonizing dilemma for family members who find it difficult to know when to take the car keys away from dad or mom as the elderly parent’s loss of capacity in driving creates a danger for other people on the road.
  • Strokes can impair the ability to think clearly, speak, or physically control motor functions of the body due to weakness or paralysis on one side. As a result, a driver who has had a stroke may be confused by traffic, have difficulty using the car’s controls or drift out of the proper traffic lane.

While jurors may be sympathetic to an elderly driver who causes an injury or death, a rules-based approach to liability and damages may produce a fair verdict for their unfortunate victims.

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[1] http://www.dds.ga.gov/seniors/

[2] https://psychcentral.com/news/2010/09/13/as-we-age-loss-of-brain-connections-slows-our-reaction-time/18031.html

[3] https://nihseniorhealth.gov/olderdrivers/howhealthaffectsdriving/01.html

[4] http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/know-your-rights/discrimination/drivers-licenses/drivers-license-laws-by-state.html