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Aging Behind the Wheel

It’s an all-too familiar story. In April 2013, police cited an elderly Illinois driver for causing an accident when he failed to yield to oncoming traffic at an intersection near Monmouth. When the 78-year-old man turned onto U.S. Route 34/67 that afternoon, a second driver struck his car. The drivers sustained non-life-threatening injuries. But the elderly man’s wife, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was thrown from the car and killed.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in the past decade the number of older drivers, defined as aged 65 and older, has increased from 21 percent to 35 percent. The NHTSA reports a similar spike in car crashes involving older drivers. Between 2011 and 2012, the number of older people injured in car accidents increased by 16 percent. The number of fatalities rose by 3 percent. Fatal crash rates increase per mile traveled starting at age 75, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That fatality rate then increases significantly after age 80.

The Obama administration has made the protection of the country’s elderly population a national priority. In recognition of the growing number of older drivers and subsequent car accidents, the NHTSA recently announced a five-year plan designed to improve safety for elderly drivers and passengers. The plan will focus on vehicle safety, data collection and driver behavior, which will involve educating the public about functional changes such as vision and cognition that put elderly drivers at risk behind the wheel. For more information, see the newly unveiled Older Driver Highway Safety Program Guidelines issued by the NHTSA.

The CDC recommends that older drivers exercise regularly, undergo annual eye exams, and ask their doctor or pharmacist to review medications for side effects and interactions that could impair their ability to drive. Additionally, the CDC suggests that older adults limit driving to daylight hours and in good weather, and that they consider using public transit or other alternative means of transportation. For more information, visit

At-Home Caregiver Responsibilities
Health care professionals, including home health caregivers, have a duty to evaluate seniors for the functional changes that affect their ability to operate a car. Illinois law requires that at-home caregivers provide adequate care, which includes monitoring the senior’s behavior. Elder neglect can arise when someone who is aware of a senior’s functional disabilities allows that senior to drive, fails to prevent that senior from getting behind the wheel, or fails to notify a family member of that senior’s inability to safely operate a car.

Illinois law protects against elderly abuse and neglect, no matter the setting. Negligence occurs when it is shown that a duty exists, that the duty has been breached, that the breach of duty directly or proximately caused damages, and that there were damages. For help with any of these issues, contact our legal team today.

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