The United States is aging. As of 2019, the United States had nearly 36 million residents age 70 and older, roughly 11 percent of the population. According to a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) survey, the number of licensed drivers in this age range increased by a whopping 70 percent between 1997 and 2018. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2030, there will be 53 million U.S. residents age 70 and older.
Even though the number of older drivers is growing, older drivers are involved in fewer fatal accidents than in the past, despite seniors keeping their licenses longer. In 2019, it was reported that 5,195 older drivers died in car accidents, 12 percent fewer than in 1997.
It is hoped that this encouraging trend will persist as the population continues to age. Although some senior drivers voluntarily give up their licenses, many can continue to drive using safety precautions such as those that follow.
Anyone involved in a car accident caused by a senior driver should contact an experienced car accident lawyer to discuss options for recovering losses.
Does New Jersey Restrict the Elderly from Driving?
As people age, physical, cognitive, and visual abilities often decline. These impairments do not always mean a senior cannot drive. Sometimes the older driver just needs to be aware of their limitations and use extra caution to compensate for them.
Some states restrict driving after a certain age or with specific medical conditions. In New Jersey, there are no special rules for drivers based on age alone. All drivers renew their licenses every four years, but the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) can require a person to take a vision test, written test, or road test.
Depending on test results, the MVC may place restrictions or conditions on a person’s driver’s license. These could include the following:
- Requiring glasses or contact lenses
- Wearing a prosthetic device while driving
- Complying with driving modifications or limits placed because of a specific medical condition
The MVC also recognizes certain medical conditions as safety concerns, including the following:
- Alzheimer’s disease or dementia
- Memory loss or lapses
- Confusion, disorientation
- Visual impairment
- Sleep apnea
- Impaired or altered consciousness
- Certain neurological conditions, such as a stroke or Parkinson’s disease
A driver with a serious medical condition will often voluntarily give up their license. If they do not, New Jersey allows family members, police officers, medical personnel, and others to ask for an investigation of the unsafe driver. The MVC has the discretion to prohibit the older person from driving.
How can Elderly Drivers Stay Safe?
Vision, hearing, and response time are three areas of concern for the elderly on the road. The following tips can help protect them and others from harm:
- Have hearing tested regularly. Drivers should wear hearing aids if required and reduce noise inside the vehicle; they should turn down the radio and ask passengers not to converse loudly.
- Have vision tested at least once a year. Vision changes from year to year, especially as people age. Regular vision screenings can ensure the proper corrective measures are in place.
- Use physical aids as necessary. A medical provider or occupational therapist might suggest ways to make a senior’s driving safer and more comfortable.
- Apply for a disabled parking placard and license plate. This can help tremendously with mobility issues at the senior’s destination.
- Get the right car. A car that is a good fit for the senior driver will make the driver more comfortable and increase safety. Smaller vehicles with adjustable seats; large, easy-to-read controls and displays; and well-placed mirrors and windows can help the senior drive safely.
- Use the car’s safety features. In addition to seat belts, seniors should use the safety features that many of today’s cars offer, including lane change alerts, forward collision and blind-spot warnings, back-up cameras, emergency braking systems, and other innovations.
- Do not speed. No driver should speed, but a senior who hurries may be setting themselves up for an accident. Speeding requires more time to stop or slow when needed and can make the vehicle harder to control. Both tasks may be difficult for a senior driver to do effectively.
- Do not tailgate. Again, following the car in front too closely will require a fast response time if that car slows or stops. Elderly drivers may not have this ability.
- Drive the speed limit. Driving slowly can cause accidents as much as speeding. Motorists must be courteous to other drivers and maintain the posted speed limit.
- Stay in the right lane on higher-speed roads. On highways and interstates, the left lane is for those who want to pass or are going faster than other drivers. It is best to stay in the right lane and maintain the speed limit.
- Plan the route ahead of time or use a GPS device. Knowing where they are going can reduce an elderly driver’s frustration and confusion.
- Stay physically active. Driving requires the ability to turn the wheel, look over one’s shoulder, and other actions. A driver should stay active outside the car to make activity inside the car easier.
- Enroll in a defensive driver program. Many states, including New Jersey, offer a driving refresher course in person and online. Some organizations that serve the older population might also offer classes. These can be tremendously helpful for the older driver.
- Beware of medications. Some medications make a person drowsy or otherwise impaired. Older drivers should not take these medications before driving if possible.
- Drive at the right time. Night-time driving and driving when the roads are wet, snowy, or icy can be difficult for some older drivers. Older motorists should plan trips for the daytime and in good weather whenever possible.
- Know your limitations. Seniors who have physical or mental conditions that could impair their driving in any way should use their best discretion when it comes to driving. Safety first, for themselves and others, is the rule to follow.
- Stay focused. Cell phones, GPS devices, and other distractions are not good for any driver, particularly for elderly drivers. Distractions should be kept to a minimum.
Driving at Night
Driving at night can be difficult for any driver but particularly troubling for older drivers. Many senior drivers voluntarily keep the car at home when it is dark out. Other older drivers limit their nighttime driving and use these safety precautions if they need to drive at night:
- Drivers should keep lights and windows clean and clear to help with visibility.
- Motorists should drive with lights on, using high beams sparingly as a courtesy to other drivers.
- Glare-resistant glasses should be worn. If glare from an oncoming vehicle is too bright, the driver should look slightly down and to the right to deflect the glare while still having enough vision to stay safely on the road.
- The rear-view mirror can be adjusted to night driving if that setting is available to cut down on glare from vehicles behind the driver.
- Speed should be adjusted. Motorists should drive the speed limit and leave enough room to stop safely without colliding with the vehicle ahead. Motorists should not drive under the speed limit except when road and weather conditions require it.
- Drivers should not operate a motor vehicle while drowsy. Medications or lifestyle habits may cause evening and nighttime drowsiness. A motorist should not drive if not 100 percent alert.
- Motorists should always carry a cell phone and car charger in the vehicle. If lost, disoriented, nervous, or having car trouble, drivers should pull over to the nearest safe spot to make a phone call.
When Should an Elderly Person Stop Driving?
Every older person is different, and there is no set age when they should give up their car keys. Many will know when it is time, but if not, loved ones will often suggest when it is time for the senior to think about not driving.
A senior and their family should answer and discuss the following questions to decide if it is time for the elderly driver to stop driving:
- Have they been in a recent accident?
- Have they received a ticket or violation recently?
- Have they experienced a near-miss?
- Have they missed or misunderstood a road sign or marking?
- Are there new dents or other damage to the vehicle?
- Are they getting lost on familiar routes?
- Has a doctor or other professional advised them to quit driving?
- Do their medical conditions affect their driving ability?
- Have their vision and hearing worsened?
Although it is never easy to tell an older person that they can no longer drive, it may be critical to do so for their safety and others’ safety on the road.
Monmouth County Car Accident Lawyers at Ellis Law Advocate for Victims of Car Accidents
Anyone who is injured in a car accident caused by a senior driver is entitled to compensation for their medical bills, property damage, and pain and suffering. An insurance company’s offer will rarely cover the complete devastation an accident victim experiences. Let the Monmouth County car accident lawyers at Ellis Law get you the compensation for which you are entitled under the law after your car accident. Call us today at 732-308-0200 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.