Alma Middleton navigates her mercury through the streets of Dothan, Ala., on Feb. 16, 1999. Middleton has driven these streets, some of which are named for members of her family, for years, but is more weary of them now and does everything she can to avoid busy intersections.
Car crashes make the local news daily, but when the crash involves an elderly driver, that distinction is bound to be in the headline. In the last week alone, a senior citizen drove into a river in New Jersey; another caused a fatal collision with a car full of college girls; and an 83-year old Arizona woman crashed into a post office.
While we can't be certain age was a contributing factor in these collisions, the statistics don't look good. One expert organization, TRIP, found that "17 percent of traffic fatalities occurred in a crash that involved at least one driver age 65 and over. But only 8 percent of vehicle miles travelled annually are driven by drivers that are 65 and older." Robert Moretti of TRIP, a national transportation research group, told NPR last month, "You could say from that that older drivers are twice as involved in fatal crashes as you would expect, based on their amount of travel." Nevertheless age doesn't always necessitate an end to driving as AAA sees it.
The American Automobile Association has developed programs to test aging drivers and help them maintain their skills on the road. The site Seniordrivers.AAA.com offers driving health check-ups, resources for driving therapists and even advice on how family members can talk to each other about this potentially touchy subject.
Anita Lorz Villagrana, Manager, Auto Club of Southern California's Community Relations and Traffic Safety Programs; Manager, Auto Club’s CarFit program for senior drivers, which provides a personal inspection of seniors in their vehicles by trained professionals to make adjustments that will maximize their safety.
Are you an aging driver worried about being forced off the road by the DMV? Or are you worried about an aging family member? How do you know if bad driving is the result of age as opposed to a normal mistake?