While chronological age is not the sole indicator of driving ability, there is ample evidence to show that most older adults experience age-related declines in physical and mental abilities that can suggest a greater crash risk. (Visit the NHTSA website for additional information.)

The evaluation of an older adult’s functional capacity to drive often falls to their primary care provider or another clinician whom they see regularly. A recent Center for Disease Control survey indicated that 82 percent of drivers over the age of 75 do self-regulate (e.g, restrict driving at night, during poor weather conditions, and for longer distances). However, only 15 percent limited driving for medical reasons and none for cognitive impairment. (Ladden)

Several studies have identified specific medical conditions and functional deficits that predict motor vehicle crashes or adverse driving events in the older population that include:

  • a history of falls
  • visual and cognitive defects
  • priory history of motor vehicle crashes
  • current use of medications, such as tricyclic antidepressants and benzodiazepines. (Ladden, p. 3)

Chronological age and medical diagnoses are not as frequently associated with crashes as functional status and medications. For example, falling and car crashes have similar risk factors, such as the use of sedatives or psychotropic medications, cognitive impairment, and balance and gait abnormalities. In fact, studies indicate that older adults who had fallen were 40% more likely to experience a subsequent motor vehicle crash than older adults who had not fallen. (Scott, K.A., et.al.) The diminishing of capacity as individuals age can lead to two common violations—failure to yield right of way and to obey a traffic sign. Furthermore, these violations often result in accidents at intersections that require a quick response, total peripheral vision, and interaction with other drivers. (Ladden)