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More Seniors Behind the Wheel Means Increased Accidents for All Age Groups

In the next 20 years, the number of elderly drivers ages 70 and older is predicted to triple in the United States. As age increases, older drivers generally become more conservative on the road. They often avoid busy highways or nighttime driving in response to declining capabilities. However, statistics show that older drivers are more likely than younger drivers to be involved in multi-vehicle wrecks, particularly at intersections.

The Federal Highway Administration reports that drivers ages 70 and up experience more motor vehicle fatalities than any other driving group, with the exception of drivers under age 20. Aging affects each of us differently, and when chronic illnesses are also present there can be a decline in physical and cognitive abilities.

Teenagers still have a much higher accident rate than someone in their 30s or 40s due primarily to inexperience. According to carinsurance.org, 16-year-olds have a higher collision rate than all other drivers.

By the age of 65, the risk of accidents takes a sharp turn for the worse. Drivers between the ages of 70-74 make one critical driving error per hour. By age 85 and over they make four driving errors per hour. After the age of 75, the risk of driver fatality increases dramatically because older drivers are more vulnerable to crash-related injury and death.

Various behavioral factors contribute to these statistics: poor judgment in making left-hand turns; drifting within the traffic lane; and a decreased ability to change behavior in response to an unexpected or rapidly changing situation.

Proposals in several states to toughen licensing requirements for older drivers have been thwarted by senior-citizen lobbying groups, who say age-based measures are discriminatory. They claim that a person’s chronological age is not an accurate predictor of driving ability. The lobbyists argue that if seniors are forced to take mandatory road tests in the absence of an incident, other age groups should be required to take them as well.

The Commonwealth of Virginia has a five-year license renewal cycle, except in the following circumstances: a license has been suspended or revoked; the driver has two or more violations; the driver suffers from seizures or blackouts; there is a DMV medical review indicator on the license; or the driver failed a vision test. Knowledge and road tests are required if a driver has two or more violations in five years.