Texas needs to do more to stop elderly drivers.
Texas needs a law restricting the rights of its older citizens, if unqualified, from driving. Great Grandpa should not automatically be allowed to keep ambling around until he’s 100. The graying of the population and increased rate of dementia is inevitably adding to the carnage on our highways. In Texas, every 59 seconds a reported collision occurs and every two hours and 21 minutes, a Texan loses his life in a vehicle crash. Texas has the second highest number of drivers who are 65 or older dying in motor vehicle accidents. The age-old questions, if you’ll pardon the pun, is when should we make elderly drivers stop and how would we make this happen?
This is a timely topic all over the globe. For example, it was just reported that Prince Philip, who is 97, wrote a letter apologizing to the two people he crashed into last week north of London. The husband of Queen Elizabeth II caused one woman to break her wrist and injured another. He obviously needs to stick to being driven in his horse and buggy.
Texas needs a “Mr. Magoo law” to protect drivers
Now that I’m going to be 65 this year, just got another invitation to join AARP, and my law firm continually gets cases where an old driver crashes into our clients, I’m more interested in this topic that some people and wanted to share some ideas here.
Texas regulations for senior citizens
Restrictions are minimal. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, only when Pops reaches the age of 85 must he renew his driver’s license every two years. Before that, 79-84, he only has to renew his license every six years like everyone else. At least a vision test is required when he turns 79. So a 84-year-old Magoo won’t be checked for five years after turning 79 when his abilities needs to be confirmed more frequently. We need to shrink these testing ages.
I understand that this is an emotional and sensitive area. We are all physically dependent on our vehicles to get around. They are a lifeline to family, friends, grocery store, and practically everything we need. OK, there’s the internet to buy things and Uber to get places, but on an emotional level, we prize our independence and a car is the avatar of freedom.
These needs have to be balanced against public safety, which is why many other states have cracked down on the problem. There are at least 50 million drivers 65 years or older on U.S. roads and some are dangers to themselves and other drivers. While we can’t over generalize that all people in a certain age bracket have the same physical and mental abilities, we clearly need to more actively monitor the abilities of older drivers. A healthy and competent driver will have no reason to worry.
By comparison, in Maryland, beginning at age 40, all drivers must pass a vision test with every renewal. Drivers in 18 states have enacted more frequent eye check and road tests and face shorter renewal periods than we face.
Why this is such a huge and growing problem
We have to be proactive. A study by the Center for Disease Control found that 50% of the elderly do not plan to surrender their driver’s licenses until they are 90 and 10% never plan to do so. In many cases, these are just accidents waiting to happen.
Statistics confirm the obvious: older drivers are dangerous.When someone is in his 70’s, his chance of being in a car accident increases. It sharply climbs when he in his 80’s. Vision, hearing, strength, and focus decline. And that’s not even considering the effect of all the pills being taken with their side effects. The elderly are involved in more crashes than middle-aged ones, even though there are a lot less of them on the roads.
The only age group that was more dangerous was (of course) teenagers, but they don’t have good judgment and/or are often distracted or intoxicated. On the other hand, senior citizens have the most number of years racking up good judgment but often lack the requisite skills like vision, balance, and reaction time. They are the type to get easily confused and not see a child running across the road, or not have the quick reflexes to slam on the brakes.
The federal government proposed a national law years ago that required states to have earlier eye exams and tougher renewals. Of course it didn’t pass.
Attention, state legislators meeting in Austin: do something to make our roads safer by reducing the number of unqualified drivers.
The New York Times just wrote about this important topic and here are more ideas:
1. Talk to mom and dad
Many families fail to ever have to have the dreaded “car key conversation” with their parents or older relatives. It’s not a surprise that a poll by Caring.com and the National Safety Council revealed that adult children said that suggesting that their parents are too old to drive was more difficult than talking to them about their funeral plans.
2. Make a doctor require it
There is no state or federal law that requires physicians to monitor the driving abilities of their elderly patients but there needs to be. Doctors must assess their patient’s capacity to operate a motor vehicle and alert the Department of Public Safety if there are safety concerns. Memory loss, heart disease, vision problems, nerve damage, and arthritis have to be noted and acted upon. In the District of Columbia, for one, a doctor is required to do this for renewals when the applicant reaches 70 years old.
3. Make Driving While Demented (DWD) a criminal offense and tort
We all know what how dangerous DWI is. And consider how many collisions are caused by texting while driving and DD (distracted driving). Should the equally dangerous DWD be against the law? And what about a new tort (civil wrong) being allowed after a car or truck wreck?
Further, should this also affect medical malpractice lawsuits, if not simply ethics charges? What happens if a doctor knew or should have known that his 95-year-old patient should not be allowed to drive and the senior citizen goes on to cause a crash. Should the doctor be liable? A psychiatrist can be held responsible if his disturbed patient kills someone, in some cases. So how about someone with Alzheimer’s Disease? The old joke about not remembering where you left your car keys isn’t so funny if the elderly driver person is DWD.
What you should do if you are worried about an elderly driver
If your parents, family members, or friends continue to drive and you see these symptoms, you know you have a problem:
- Car crashes or dents, especially multiple ones;
- Problems seeing traffic signals and signs;
- Trouble concentrating;
- Inability to control the vehicle;
- Getting lost or confused while driving; and
- Problems getting into or out of the vehicle
We can help
We all have a duty to our elderly loved ones and all drivers. Berenson Injury Law has almost four decades representing the victims of car and truck accidents and has handled cases where elderly people have collided into our client’s vehicle. We are currently representing a family crashed into by a 92-year-old and many other cases over the past nearly 40 years.
Further, I believe that an injury lawyer should also take an active role in promoting safety, which is why so many of the blog posts here discuss how to make our roads safer.