The crash involving a 100-year-old driver that injured school children in Los Angeles is a wake-up call for families to have a conversation with the aging drivers in their lives, according to the AAA.
While the nationally-publicized incident raises public concerns about senior drivers, AAA says it is a myth that seniors are among the nation’s most dangerous. Instead, AAA's Jake Nelson said just the opposite is true.
“Recent data tells us that drivers in their 70s get into about the same number of crashes per mile driven as do drivers in their 30s,” said Nelson, who is AAA’s director of Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research. “On average, drivers in their mid- to late-80s still have lower crash rates per mile driven than drivers in their early 20s, and roughly half the crash rates of teenagers — the nation’s riskiest drivers.”
But AAA notes that with 10,000 Americans a day turning 65, an increasing number of families are faced with the challenge of balancing safety and mobility for older loved ones.
“The driver’s daughter Ms. Jenkins was right that this crash was a ‘wake up call.’ We know from research that families don’t know where to turn for help or how to get the conversation started,” said Nelson. “AAA urges families to prepare now, before they get their own wake up call.”
The driver in Wednesday's crash, Preston Carter, said he lost control of his car — possibly because of brake failure with his Cadillac. Police said Carter had a valid license and neither drugs nor alcohol were a factor in the accident. Carter says he turns 101 on Sept. 5.
Carter's car went up on a sidewalk across from an elementary school, hitting 11 children and three adults. Carter said he was leaving a grocery store parking lot at the time of the accident.
Nelson said a national AAA survey shows 80 percent of senior drivers “self-police” their driving by voluntarily avoiding one or more higher-risk driving situations like driving at night or during rush-hour times of day. AAA has also found that age, on its own, is not what leads to a loss of driving skills. Instead, medical conditions that come with aging — which can affect drivers as early as in their 40s — are what commonly reduce driving ability.
To help older drivers and their families, AAA launched a website that provides free tools, resources, and expert guidance on issues related to older drivers and warning signs of a possible problem.
Here are two key warning signs cited by AAA related to older drivers:
- A driver has been issued two or more traffic tickets or warnings in the past two years. Tickets can predict greatest risk for collision.
- The driver has been involved in two or more collisions or “near-misses” in the past two years. Rear-end crashes, parking lot fender-benders and side collisions while turning across traffic rank as the most common mishaps for drivers with diminishing skills, depth perception or reaction time.
AAA's Senior Driving web site explains that these warning signs, however, don't always mean a driver should be taken off the road. Instead, the next steps include assessing the driver's abilities and possible impacts of medications. AAA says training programs are also available to help older drivers cope with physical changes so they can maintain their independence and mobility.
Throughout the United States, licensing policies for older adults vary. In New York, drivers must renew their driver’s licenses and pass a vision test or submit test results from a vision specialist every eight years.
Motorists may renew by mail if they submit a vision report, or they must apply in person. There are no additional requirements for senior drivers. In California, drivers 70 and older must renew their license in person.
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