Today, there are more than 20 million drivers in the United States that are over the age of 70. While the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has recently reported a decline in fatalities related to elderly drivers, experts still report that motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of injury-related deaths among 65- to 74-year-old people. For people between 75 and 84 years old, car crashes are second only to falls as a leading cause of death.
Consistent with its mission for promoting highway safety, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) collaborated with the American Medical Association (AMA) to develop a Physician’s Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers.
As drivers age, reflexes slow, bodies become frailer, eyesight fails, hearing declines, and stamina wavers. Any of these factors can impact an older person’s ability to drive safely. The newly updated 235-page AMA Guide addresses more than just driver proficiency issues; it also includes discussions on vehicle modifications.
The resource also includes a survey of state licensing and reporting laws. Most states have some standard licensure renewal restrictions. Some states require older drivers to have shorter renewal terms, while other states mandate medical condition reports, reaction tests, or vision tests. These health-related restrictions require doctors to make judgments about their patient’s fitness to continue driving; and this can impact feelings of independence and well-being.
For physicians and other medical professionals, evaluating elderly patients regarding their driving may give rise to ethical and legal considerations. A physician’s clinical observations may raise concerns about a patient’s overall abilities, while medications and medical conditions may result in temporary or even long-term driving restrictions. The new AMA Guide encourages physicians to discuss driving activities and transportation plans with their patients” a common oversight by medical professionals” and gives specific tools to use in assessing a patient’s needs and safety.
Over the next few years, the U.S. population will experience a shift: older Americans will make up a larger percentage of the population. With greater life expectancies and advances in medicine, the Census Bureau estimates that by 2025, elderly drivers will account for roughly 20 percent of the population. With so many older drivers sharing the nation’s roadways, physicians are” and will continue to be ” key stakeholders in public highway safety.