The Los Angeles Times published an opinion piece recently addressing the issue of whether senior drivers should face different licensing rules. The op-ed was inspired by a case where a 92-year-old reversed her vehicle without looking, backed up her vehicle, and killed a 45-year-old in a parking lot in San Diego.
The senior driver in that case was charged with vehicular manslaughter, in part because of the prosecutor's desire to force the senior driver to give up her license. The crash was one of many that have occurred in Southern California in recent years, including one incident where a 100-year-old driver backed his car into both children and adults near an elementary school and caused 11 injuries.
In these highly publicized car accidents, age is almost always a factor. Yet, in California, the only special licensing rule applicable to seniors is that people aged 70 and older cannot renew their license by mail. California does not have an accelerated renewal requirement where seniors have to get their license renewed more frequently, and they do not require road tests like some states do.
As the population ages, it will become important for California to assess whether it wishes to impose new requirements, especially if more car accidents continue to happen in Southern California involving older drivers.
Risks of Senior Driving Car Accidents in Orange County
Concerns about senior drivers in Orange County are not unfounded, as the aging process can unquestionably affect the skills that people need to drive safely. Aging can affect cognitive function, reaction time, and vision. When any one of these things are affected, a person can become a risk on roadways.
The safety risk associated with seniors who drive for too long can be seen not only in Southern California, but throughout the United States. Elderly drivers may get less attention than drunk or distracted drivers - and are widely considered to be safer drivers than other age groups - but many factors exist that can increase crash risk for elderly drivers.
For example, factors such as arthritis can make turning a steering wheel painful and reduce reaction times, potentially leading to serious rear-end crashes, intersection accidents and injuries to pedestrians. Reduced flexibility and limited range of motion could seriously affect a senior driver's ability to grip the steering wheel or press the brake.
Another issue directly affecting senior drivers includes the use of medication. Many seniors are prescribed medications that can potentially impair judgment and slow reaction times, similar to a drunk, distracted or drowsy driver.
While senior drivers are more likely to drive during the daytime and stay off the road during periods of inclement weather, seniors and other motorists also need to be aware of high risk times and take steps to try to avoid collisions.
Seniors and their families also need to make sure seniors stop driving when they aren't able to safely do so any more. California may wish to ensure seniors stop when they need to by, as the LA Times article discusses, imposing special licensing requirements on older residents.