Older drivers don't get a much credit for all the precautions they take behind the wheel. They are less likely to speed, drink and drive, or fiddle with a smartphone at 75 mph. They are also more likely to wear their seat belts and limit their drive-time to daylight hours and off-peak times.
Still, there is no denying senior drivers are at higher risk of car accidents in West Palm Beach and elsewhere than many of their younger counterparts. A recent analysis by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed that in 2015, there were 6,165 people 65 and older killed in crashes, which accounted for 18 percent of all traffic deaths nationally. The percentage of older drivers is growing — making up 18 percent of the total in 2015, as compared to 15 percent in 2006. These figures are only going to grow in the coming years, as our population ages.
Meanwhile, consider that 14 percent of people over age 70 suffer some kind of dementia, and Alzheimer's affects about one-third of those over the age of 85. Other conditions such as faltering vision, osteoarthritis, chronic pain and diabetes can also affect one's driving fitness.
Beyond that, elderly drivers are more likely to be under the influence of certain medications (i.e., painkillers, antidepressants and sleeping pills) that have the potential to interfere with safe driving.
Florida Requirements for Senior Drivers
West Palm Beach car accident attorneys recognize that having a discussion with an elderly relative about handing over the keys is not an easy one. Florida does have some special requirements of older drivers. For example, those 80 and older drivers must pass a vision test (either at the driver's license office or at their doctor's office) in order to successfully obtain a license renewal. That law has been in effect since Jan. 1, 2004. Those who fail the test may still be eligible for a restricted license, based on an examination by a specialist.
Additionally, F.S. 627.0652 gives insurance discounts for certain individuals who complete safety courses. Those reduced rates are good for three years, at which time the driver can opt to take the course again.
Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott proposed waiving the $25 renewal fee for drivers over 80 who wish to forfeit their driver's license in favor of an ID card. Collectively, this could save seniors $3 million annually in renewal costs, but it's not clear how many accident/ injuries it might prevent.
Risks to Older Drivers
The NHTSA report indicated that as far back as 2015, there was an 8 percent increase from the previous year in both the number of older people who were injured and killed in motor vehicle crashes.
The agency reported that there were 40.1 million licensed older drivers in 2015, which is a 33 percent uptick from just 10 years earlier.
Florida car accidents claimed the lives of 539 people over the age of 65 in 2015, which amounted to 18 percent of the total. Of those:
- 148 - 65-69
- 109 - 70-74
- 89 - 75-79
- 87 - 80-84
- 106 - 85+
Older motorists may also be at risk of sudden medical emergencies that can pose a threat on the roads. These might include a heart attack or stroke. In those cases, a defendant may try to sidestep liability by asserting the sudden medical emergency doctrine. However, as our injury lawyers can explain, this defense (as cited in the 1955 Florida Supreme Court case of Bridges v. Speer) won't be effective if we can show the driver had any previous similar medical episode or forewarning prior to the onset of the condition and still decided to drive knowing there were foreseeable risks.
We know that for many drivers, especially in Florida, where many cities lack effective public transportation systems, the ability to drive is not just a pastime - it's a lifeline. Convincing a loved one of the need to hand over the keys may not be easy, but it may be more than worthwhile.
Our West Palm Beach car accident lawyers are available to answer any of your questions arising from crashes with elderly drivers.