At what age is one too old to drive?


As the population ages some new challenges are going to appear that will ultimately affect all of us. Not the least of these will be the challenge of determining the suitability of older individuals’ driving skills. At what age is an elderly driver too old to drive? For years the large number of teen-aged and twenty-something drivers accounted for the lion’s share of traffic accidents, a reality reflected in their higher insurance premiums.

But as the birth rate is in decline and the overall population is aging, the number of younger drivers will decrease while a concomitant increase in the number of older drivers will become readily apparent. The idea that insurance rates should be lower for mature drivers because of their lower incidence of traffic accidents and their overall social stability will likely some day give way to increased insurance premiums for geriatric drivers as their numbers increase.

Many older drivers account for shorter trips as they drive their vehicle to purchase groceries or visit friends and family. There is a substantial body of empirical evidence that a large percentage of these drivers do not possess sufficient skill in driving and some pose a hazard to other drivers.

In my own business travels I often witness driving infractions by seniors that would have resulted in serious accidents, had not the other drivers been alert enough to avoid a collision. More often than not, the older driver is completely unaware that he or she ran a stop sign or a red light or even that they’ve just narrowly missed an accident.

I believe that within the next decade insurance companies will revamp their premium structures to reflect the risk that many geriatric drivers represent. The higher insurance rates will certainly take care of part of the problem as some seniors will opt not to drive, rather than pay an increase in premiums. However other steps will need to be taken to ensure the safety of all drivers.

Already many jurisdictions are road-testing drivers beyond a certain age to ensure that they are competent in handling the challenges of driving a vehicle. In some areas the road testing kicks in at age 80, while in other areas it is age 75. Many senior advocates are outraged that what has traditionally been considered the safest group of drivers (aged 65 and older whose accident rate is somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 per 1,000 drivers) is now being targeted by government for retesting.

However, as the percentage of the population over 65 increases dramatically, so will the incidence of collisions involving older drivers. The only saving grace is that generally older drivers tend to drive more slowly, so if a collision does occur, the slower speed involved tends to mitigate damage and injury.

It is said that there are two things certain: death and taxes. Soon there’ll be a third: mandatory road testing for seniors.

Written by Klaus Rohrich on Saturday, 30 January 2010

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