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Wrong-way accident illustrates risks some senior citizen drivers pose

At a certain age, many people begin to develop cognitive or physical conditions that make it unsafe to be behind the wheel.

There are important milestones for every stage of a person's life. One milestone that many Massachusetts residents are not looking forward to is the declining ability to drive safely. As people age, they often begin to lose many of the skills that made them safe drivers for decades. Consumer Reports warns that drivers older than the age of 80 are six times more at risk of being involved in fatal accidents than those who are younger. Unfortunately, others sharing the road may also become injured in collisions or killed by older drivers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that every day throughout the United States, about 15 seniors lose their lives and 500 more are injured in crashes. There are a number of age-related factors that can contribute to the increased risk of older citizens being involved in car accidents.

How health factors can affect driving

Many of the age-related conditions older drivers face, according to NIH Senior Health, include the following:

• Decreased vision or hearing, which may make it difficult for older drivers to recognize dangers on the road or see or hear approaching emergency vehicles

• Reduced cognitive function, which can affect a driver's reaction time and ability to navigate a hazard or follow traffic rules

• Injuries or illnesses, such as heart conditions, diabetes or arthritis, which may affect motor function

To address the increased risk of motor vehicle crashes among older drivers, many states have enacted measures regarding driver licensing ages and requirements. The regulations in some states are quite strict, while those in other states are more permissive. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, proof of adequate vision is required for all Massachusetts drivers over the age of 75 at their driver's license renewal appointments. Additionally, online or mail renewal is not allowed for drivers 75 and older.

Elderly driver gets into wrong-way crash with state trooper

An alarming crash recently illustrated the dangers some older drivers may pose. WPRI News reported that in Barnstable this November, an 80-year-old man driving his pickup truck the wrong way on Route 6 West ran head-on into one of two Massachusetts State Trooper squad cars attempting to apprehend him. Fortunately, the officer's injuries were minor. Authorities said the driver had a medical condition that should have kept him from driving. In addition to facing the loss of his driver's license, the man may have charges of negligent operation and driving the wrong way.

It is difficult to give up the keys after a lifetime of driving. However, the consequences of continuing to drive past the point where it is unsafe to do so may be grave. Those who are injured by an elderly or negligent driver may be able to pursue compensation. It can help to contact an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss available options.

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