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How does age affect your driving skills?

We've all heard the jokes. It has been a long time since their first driving test. They can't see over the steering wheel.

But is it true that older drivers are worse than their younger peers? Does age take away your ability to drive safely?

The answer may not be straightforward. Many older drivers are more than competent. They may actually be better drivers than other age groups because they have a great deal of experience behind the wheel. However, there are other factors to consider.

What we do know is that older people are driving longer than ever before -- and they're driving more miles than ever before. Moreover, the 65-and-older demographic is growing.

According to a 2018 study from the nonprofit transportation safety group TRIP, there are currently about 46 million people over 65 in the U.S. That number is expected to double by 2060. About 90% of the time, people over 65 get around in private vehicles. They only take public transportation about 2% of the time, and about 80% live in suburban and rural areas where cars are practically a necessity.

Age-related impairments

While age alone may not be a factor in driving ability, the same cannot be said of age-related impairments. According to the Governors Highway Safety Administration, there are three impairments that play key roles in crashes among older drivers: vision, cognition and motor function.

These three areas of declining function have significant effects on driver safety. Vision naturally declines with age. Cognition -- memory and attention -- can also decline naturally, or it can decline due to medication side effects or age-related medical problems like dementia. Motor function can suffer when arthritis or other issues affect a person's flexibility.

Initiatives to improve older drivers' skills

Some states have changed the law to require people over 65 to take driver's license tests more frequently. Others have passed laws requiring that older drivers renew their licenses in person. Others issue specific limitations to people with certain medical conditions or after they have been in an accident. For example, some may prohibit night driving, which can be more difficult for people with limited vision.

A 2014 study in the journal Epidemiology found that in-person renewal requirements were associated with a 31% drop in fatal crashes among people 85 and older. Requiring a vision test was associated with a similar drop in fatal crashes.

Older drivers should take extra care when driving. If an accident happens, an experienced personal injury attorney can help you explore your options for recovering compensation.

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