By Becca Heller
Elderly drivers are sometimes viewed as hazards on the road due to poor eyesight and diminished reflexes, but a preliminary report by the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration found that drivers between the ages of 75 and 89 actually had the lowest crash rate of all other age groups.
The report, prepared at the request of the budget committees in the House and Senate, compared the crash statistics of drivers from the ages of 16 to 100 and analyzed crash reports to determine age-based driving behaviors.
“While the number of older drivers continues to grow, the total number of accidents caused and the crash rate per licensed driver is lower than any other age demographic,” the report found.
According to the data, speeding, impaired driving, and aggressive driving are rarely factors for drivers 65 and older. Data also reveals that older drivers are much less likely to violate traffic laws.
The flip side
While elderly drivers are less likely to be in a cell phone-related crash, the MVA found that they were just as frequently distracted while driving.
Despite the fact that older drivers are involved in fewer crashes, the MVA discovered that elderly drivers are actually found at-fault in a disproportionate percentage of the crashes they are involved in, “which is perhaps an indication of diminished driving skills,” the report states.
Due to a lack of data, the report was unable to take into account the amount of miles each age group was driving -- an element which could give considerable insight into the crash data. It’s likely that elderly drivers spend less time on the roads than drivers in their 20s and 30s, a factor that would explain the disparate crash statistics between the age groups.
More seniors behind the wheel
In addition to responding to safety concerns surrounding older drivers, the MVA also examined the programs that are in place to address health and driving eligibility among the older population.
Currently Maryland has about 57,000 drivers over the age of 75. Data showed that there has been a significant increase in the number of drivers who are over the age of 80 in the last decade; there has also been a spike in drivers between the ages of 50 and 69, reflecting the aging of the baby boom generation.
With this increase, comes the increased importance of astute evaluation of potentially at-risk older drivers. In the report, the MVA outlines its current evaluation and rehabilitation process.
Upon referral -- which can come from a clinician, a concerned family member, law enforcement, courts, or a self-report -- the case is put before the Medical Advisory Board or the Driver Wellness and Safety Division.
“Each case is reviewed on an individual basis, and a diagnosis is simply a ‘warning flag’ that should lead to proper inquiry,” the report explains.
After the initial assessment, the driver may be channelled to take a Functional Capacity Test Screening at a local MVA. The test primarily assesses cognitive functioning, including working memory, visual processing, and visuospacial attention.
It’s also possible the driver will be recommended to set up an appointment with an occupational therapist or a driving rehabilitation specialist. After working with the driver, the specialists will determine whether or not the person is fit to drive.
“Sometimes we have to take someone’s driver’s license away,” MVA Administrator John Kuo told the budget subcommittee.
An obstacle to safety
Though Maryland has a thorough program in place to assess older drivers’ safety, a lack of communication between clinicians, drivers, law enforcement, and the Driver Wellness and Safety Dvision has resulted in fewer drivers being referred to the program.
With the number of older drivers increasing rapidly, the MVA has increased outreach efforts to inform the public of this safety program. Last year, the MVA held a symposium -- “The Maryland Older Driver Symposium” -- and another one is planned for 2013. For more information, click here.