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Aging drivers can lose their ability to avoid car accidents

For most people, learning to drive is a rite of passage and a step for passing from adolescence into adulthood. We value the independence that owning a vehicle and driver’s license gives us, and take for granted that we will be able to drive safely for the rest of our lives.

Unfortunately, as people age, their driving skills can erode. Physical and neurological disorders common among senior citizens affect the ability to drive. If a senior decides to drive anyway, they can badly hurt someone in a terrible car accident.

AAA notes several issues that can prevent an older driver from operating a vehicle safely, such as:

  • Arthritis
  • Weakened muscles
  • Reduced flexibility
  • Side effects of medication

Though AAA does not mention it, reduced vision and hearing can also lead to an auto accident. So can dementia conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. A driver who has dementia can become confused and make a dangerous mistake.

Driver’s licenses and St. Louis’ seniors

The best way to stop serious car wrecks due to an aging driver is to prevent those who are no longer able to drive from being on the road. In Missouri, drivers aged 21 to 69 must renew their driver’s licenses every six years. From age 70 on, licenses must be renewed every three years. In theory, at least, this gives the state more chances to review an aging motorist’s skills over time.

However, the current COVID-19 pandemic could complicate these efforts. Across the border in Illinois, the secretary of state recently announced that drivers aged 75 or older whose licenses are due to expire won’t have to get them renewed until their birthday in 2021. The concern is that seniors could expose themselves to the virus by showing up at their local secretary of state office to get their license renewed. So far, we have not heard of Missouri taking a similar step.

What can happen in a crash with an older driver

While this could help prevent the spread of COVID-19 to a vulnerable population, extending driver’s license terms for people in their mid-70s and older could also lead to serious collisions. Getting hit by an older driver can lead to severe injuries to the brain, spinal cord, back and more.

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