Elderly Driver Accidents

Elderly driver accidents are becoming increasingly common in Southwest Florida. There are an estimated 48 million drivers over 65 in the U.S. – a 50 percent increase since 1999. It’s a figure expected to surge in the coming years as Baby Boomers reach their golden years.

Although driving allows older adults to stay both mobile and independent, the risk of being injured or killed in a crash increases with age, as does the chances of harming someone else. Driver errors are the No. 1 cause of traffic accidents resulting in injury and death. While older drivers may be less inclined to speed, drive drunk or drive at night, they are more likely to collide with other vehicles at intersections. Research has shown an increase in age is positively correlated with a decrease in the physical and mental capacity to drive.

Car accident attorneys with The Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, are committed to assisting injured elder drivers, as well as others who may have been injured in a crash with a senior driver.

Senior Drivers and Crash Risk

Safe driving is reliant on key skills that involve physical, cognitive and visual capabilities. Although impairments on this level may occur at any stage in life, they are most prevalent among those who are older.

Data from the U.S. Department of Transportation shows that when accounting for vehicle miles traveled, fatal crash rates start to rise when drivers hit ages 70 to 74. They are highest among those drivers who are 85 and older. Much of this involves the fact that older drivers are more prone to injury – especially chest injuries – as well as medical complications.

In looking at passenger vehicle motorists involved in multiple-vehicle collisions at intersections, this risk began to rise once drivers reached age 60. Multiple-vehicle crashes occurring at intersections account for roughly 40 percent of all deadly crashes among drivers over the age of 80, compared to 20 percent for drivers under 60.

One issue facing elder drivers is an increase in medical conditions that may affect driving. Some conditions more common among older drivers include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease;
  • Arthritis;
  • Stroke;
  • Cataracts;
  • Sleep apnea;
  • Parkinson’s disease;
  • Glaucoma;
  • Diabetes;
  • Macular degeneration.

Any one of these conditions can negatively impact one’s ability to safely drive, and the person who suffers it may not realize the full scope of its effect.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that specifically in Florida, of the total 4,137 drivers involved in fatal crashes in a single year, 581 of those were over 65 – more than any other state in the country. In looking at total traffic accident fatalities in that year, 539 of 2,939 were over 65 – again, the highest in the country.

In identifying situations and behaviors associated with increased crash risks among older drivers, another NHTSA analysis revealed drivers over 70 are overrepresented in single-vehicle fatal crashes, as well as in crashes involving a left turn. The risk of a left turn crash doubled for drivers in their 70s and was even higher for motorists over 80. Failure to yield was the most frequently-cited violation among older drivers. Senior drivers were also somewhat more likely to be identified as ill, blacked out, drowsy/ asleep, using medications or other drugs (aside from alcohol) or having some other physical impairment.

Florida has nearly 3 million licensed drivers over the age of 65.

Liability for Drivers in Older Crashes

When it comes to liability for injury crashes involving older drivers, these cases are handled in much the same way as others. The operator of the car – or his/ her estate, if they are deceased – may be held liable for damages to others caused by negligent driving.

There are some situations, though, wherein third parties could be liable. A big question will be: Who owned the car the negligent driver was operating? If the vehicle driven by the elder adult was owned by an adult child or some other individual, that person could be liable under two legal theories: Dangerous instrumentality and negligent entrustment.

The dangerous instrumentality doctrine holds that motor vehicles are considered inherently dangerous, and therefore the legal owner can be liable for any injuries caused by its negligent use – even if the owner wasn’t driving the car – so long as the owner gave permission for it to be driven by negligent party. The exceptions to the dangerous instrumentality doctrine are limited (i.e., rental car use, vehicles dropped off for auto repairs, vehicles in the midst of sales).

Negligent entrustment, meanwhile, hold that the owner of a dangerous instrumentality knew or should have known of a person’s inexperience or reckless or unsafe behaviors, and still allowed them to use that dangerous instrumentality anyway. So if there is evidence an adult child allowed an elderly parent to drive – knowing they had a medical condition or history of problems that would make them unsafe, the adult child/ owner of the car could be liable for negligent entrustment.

Beyond that, the primary at-fault party would be the driver of the vehicle. The good news for those involved in crashes with older drivers is these motorists are more likely to have at least a minimum level of bodily injury liability insurance coverage available.

If you suspect a loved one may be medically incompetent to drive, F.S. 322.126 protects your privacy in reporting your concerns to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Florida law also requires drivers over 80 to complete a vision test – at the DHS&MV office or from their own physician – before their license can be renewed.

If you have been injured in a crash with an elderly driver, contact our experienced Fort Myers car accident attorneys.

800-646-1210 – Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner – Focused on Justice

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