The images are still shocking. “I see a vehicle going into the crowd and I couldn’t believe my eyes,” said Ron Kutter as he witnessed a 73-year-old driver plow through the Gulf Shores Marching Band during Mardi Gras.
Just two weeks ago, a 75-year-old driver goes the wrong way on the Bayway and crashed head-on into a State Trooper. The list goes on with one thing in common, an elderly driver behind the wheel.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation drivers, 65 and older were responsible for more than 63 hundred fatal car crashes in 2015.
There are 40 million licensed drivers 65 and older in the U.S. right now. Over the next 15 years, 70 million Americans will be 65 or older and 85 to 90 percent of them will be licensed to drive.
“It’s their perception-to-reaction,” says veteran accident investigator Vince Miller. “They’re not able to see what’s going on as fast. They think that they are doing well but they’re not. The vision, the hearing, it kind of goes.”
News Five spoke to a group of seniors, ages 61 to 70, all but one had been involved in an accident.
“I didn’t realize what had happened at first, to be honest with you. If you’ve never been in an accident, it happens so fast.” Bob Tomlinson’s first wreck was just last week when a teenage driver ran a red light. “It did make me a little nervous for a couple days driving.”
They say it’s not the number of birthdays that determine whether or not you are a good driver. “I am much more at peace when I drive. Now, there is not a big hurry,” says senior driver Bonnie Ziska. “I can remember in my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s it was totally different.”
Compared to other age groups, seniors are some of the safest. “The middle-aged,” says Officer Miller, “the middle class would be what I’m more fearful of because they’ve got so many things going on.”
“You don’t stop at the stop sign and just gun it and go,” says Kathy Olewiler as she describes senior drivers. “You’re very careful about speed limits, you don’t talk on the telephone, you don’t text, you pay attention to what’s around you.”
Slower reflexes, vision and hearing loss, medications or health conditions can change all that.
“If it’s dark and at night then maybe none of us should be out driving,” says senior driver Jan Mosier. “If I don’t know where I’m going, I stay home.”
In the end, we are all responsible for what happens behind the wheel. “Certainly if I get to the point where I’m a danger to somebody else, somebody needs to tell me,” says Bill Groves. “I may or may not realize that.”
Safe driving is more about the individual, not the age.
Alabama does not have mandated restrictions on older drivers but 30 states and the District of Columbia do. They range from vision tests, shorter renewal periods and re-testing. In Georgia, they start taking a closer look at drivers at the age of 59 but in Texas shorter renewal periods kick in at the age of 85.
Stats on elderly drivers: https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/older_users/
Help for families who think they have a loved one who’s too old to drive: https://www.caring.com/articles/dangerous-senior-drivers
Teen Driver safety: https://www.ntsb.gov/safety/mwl/Pages/mwl-8.aspx
CDC info on older drivers: https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/older_adult_drivers/