Are Age Restrictions for Drivers a Good Idea?

In spite of the occasional headline over news stories about car accidents which seem to suggest that senior citizens shouldn’t be driving, the evidence doesn’t necessarily support the premise that older drivers (65-70+) are any more dangerous than our youngest drivers (age 19 and under). In fact, much research into the topic suggests the very opposite is true and that we should be more fearful of younger drivers than seniors behind the wheel.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16-19-year-olds than any other age group. When using a factor of “per mile driven,” drivers ages 16 to 19 are almost three times more likely to be in a fatal crash than all drivers age 20 years and older, including seniors.

The CDC research is one of the most recent in a group of studies which concludes that older people are generally safer drivers, that more programs exist to improve their driving skills, and that many current restrictions aren’t as effective as was once believed in preventing traffic fatalities.

Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, an advocacy group for state highway safety offices, says another reason for lawmakers’ “braking” on passing more bills that restrict drivers based solely on their age is the changes in how we now define “old.” “Being 75 isn’t what it used to be” says Adkins, “because people are more active and live longer than previous generations.”

Over the past 15 years or so, a lot of state legislatures – including New York’s – passed laws which placed some sort of restrictions on seniors when renewing their driver’s licenses. Many now require vision screening, renewing their licenses more frequently around age 70, or demanding they show up in person at the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew their licenses. Most of these measures became laws years ago, and the states that now use these restrictions believe they are functioning satisfactorily and need no further action.

In fact, this trend is being reversed. Vermont lawmakers recently refused to pass a bill demanding that drivers 65 and older pass vision and road tests in order to obtain or renew their licenses. Tennessee lawmakers did the same to proposed legislation which required people 76 and older to take a vision test every time they renew.

And, according to research re-published in The Daily Beast, children are twice as safe when riding in cars driven by their grandparents as they are riding in cars driven by their parents.

“Children in crashes with grandparent drivers were at one-half the risk of injury compared with children in crashes with parent drivers,” read the conclusion of the 2011 study “Grandparents Driving Grandchildren: An Evaluation of Child Passenger Safety and Injuries;” published by the Journal Pediatrics.

As for why this was true, the Daily Beast article proffered this reasoning:

“[H]ow about years of driving experience, often acquired on earlier vehicles which were far less safe than those today? . . . [M]aybe it’s the risk-aversion factor acquired over years of having seen others lost to traffic disasters. Could it be that grandparents simply don’t feel the need to take excessive chances racing from soccer game to football practice while trying to squeeze in some shopping at the same time? Could it actually, possibly be that older drivers as a group are really not the least competent on the roads?

In short, unless more evidence is uncovered that eclipses current data, singling out older drivers for restrictions on their driving privileges seems to be wasted effort, based on misperception.

If you or a loved one has been injured by another’s negligence, contact Kaplan Lawyers PC today to schedule a free consultation.