Older drivers have high fatality rate in crashes, LHSC warns

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Dear Editor,

Older drivers generally drive less than their younger counterparts but have high death rates when involved in a crash, according to state and federal data.

The Louisiana Highway Safety Commission reminds older drivers, their families and friends to be on the lookout for signs that a person’s ability to drive safely has been reduced. Age itself is not a determining factor for safe driving, but older drivers involved in crashes are more at risk of dying than younger drivers. For example, preliminary data for 2012 shows the fatal crash rate for 75-84 year-old drivers in Louisiana was 21 percent higher than the fatal crash rate for 55-64 year-old drivers. The fatal crash rate is the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes per 100,000 licensed drivers.

Improvements in healthcare and medicine are enabling people to live active lifestyles longer, but older drivers are at higher risk in crashes because they can be physically more fragile than younger drivers. Older drivers are also more likely to crash in complex situations – such as intersections – because of impairments in vision, cognitive skills and motor function.

The fact that a person has reached a certain age doesn’t necessarily mean that his or her ability to drive safely has been compromised. However, family members and close friends of older drivers should be on the lookout for signs of unsafe driving.

Driving abilities often decline gradually, which provides opportunities for interventions and modifications to maintain safe driving. Most drivers 70 or older will outlive their ability to drive safely by an estimated seven to 10 years, according to a training manual produced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The number of people 65 and older is estimated to more than double by the middle of the century to 80 million seniors. By 2020, there will be an estimated 40 million licensed drivers 65 or older.

Common errors made by older drivers involve failure to yield right of way or to see oncoming traffic and a tendency toward improper turns or lane changes. Left turns at intersections are among the most frequent spots where crashes involving older drivers occur.

Some warning signs that friends and family members of older drivers should watch out for include:

• Slow reaction time

• Forgets to buckle seat belt

• Does not obey stop signs or traffic lights

• Fails to yield right of way

• Drives too slowly or too quickly

• Often gets lost, even on familiar routes

• Stops at green light or at the wrong time

• Doesn’t seem to notice other cars, pedestrians, or bike riders on the road

• Is honked at or passed often

Lt. Col. John LeBlanc,

Executive Director, La. Highway Safety Commission