Early this June, two senior citizens were together in a Toyota RAV4. According to NR Today, the two elderly Oregon men in the RAV4 were traveling on Interstate 5 South when the 76-year-old driver lost control of the car. The vehicle drifted onto the right shoulder of the road and then collided with a guardrail at a freeway off-ramp. Upon colliding with the guardrail, the vehicle spun into the southbound lane. A Toyota Tundra pickup truck hit the passenger side of the vehicle and the 88-year-old passenger in the RAV4 was killed.
Law enforcement agents with the Oregon State Police are conducting an investigation into the cause of the accident. While it is not yet clear why the RAV4 began to drift out of its lane, it is natural to be concerned that the driver of the SUV made a mistake or error in losing control of the vehicle and hitting the guardrail. The driver could have drifted out of his lane for any number of reasons, but his advanced age may have been a factor.
At Zbinden & Curtis, our Portland, OR accident lawyers know that there is a great deal of concern about the aging of our driving population and about the ability of senior drivers to be safe on the roads. While some of the concern is based on unfounded myths, the fact remains that seniors can be dangerous behind the wheel if they drive after the point when it is no longer safe for them to do so.
Senior Drivers on Oregon Roads
Drivers in Oregon and throughout the United States are aging. In fact, according to a recent article on Your West Valley.com, one out of every five drivers in the U.S. is going to be aged 65 or older by 2030.
As these senior drivers age, there is understandable worry that more accidents will happen. The reflexes of seniors can begin to slow down as a natural part of the aging process, and elderly drivers may have slower reaction times. Vision, strength, memory and cognitive function can all begin to decline and fail as well, and a senior driver who struggles with physical or mental issues could be a serious danger to himself and to any other drivers, passengers, pedestrians, motorcycle riders or others on the roads.
Some seniors continue to drive past the point when they should be, and this may not only increase the accident risk but may also increase the dangers of serious injuries since the elderly driver may be slower to react after a crash happens. In the accident involving the RAV4, for example, the 88-year-old passenger might not have been killed if the 76-year-old driver had been able to react and swerve in time to avoid hitting the guardrail.
Of course, not every senior driver is going to be a menace on the roads. In fact, Your West Valley indicates that senior drivers may actually be less likely to get into car accidents than younger people. To support the position that seniors aren’t necessarily unsafe behind the wheel, the article points to data from the NHTSA that shows seniors between the ages of 64 and 69 are statistically the safest drivers on the road. However, this low accident rate may be caused not by the fact that seniors really are good drivers but instead by the fact that seniors are less likely to put themselves in high risk driving situations such as driving at night or in bad weather.
While it is unclear at this point exactly what impact the aging of the driving population will have on traffic accident safety, it is clear that accidents with senior citizens can have devastating consequences. Elderly drivers need to make sure that they are cognizant of their own abilities and limitations and need to make informed choices about when it is time to stop driving.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident in the Portland area, contact Zbinden & Curtis. Call (503) 287-5000 for a free case consultation.