Our over-65 population - in both Oklahoma and throughout the U.S. - is expected to rise 135 percent between 2000 and 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But the Baby Boom generation is redefining retirement - both in life, and on the road.
Whereas most people used to be retire by 65 and very few held onto their licenses past the age of 75, that's changing. People are healthier, more active and more likely to continue working, volunteering - and driving - well into their 80s. But that doesn't mean they do so absent certain challenges.
AAA reports 50 percent of middle-aged drivers and 80 percent of those in 70s suffer from arthritis, which is a crippling inflammation of the joints. Older drivers also have weaker muscles and reduced flexibility, which can greatly limit a driver's range of motion and ability to grip and turn the wheel, reach doors and windows, accelerate or brake or turn to check a blind spot. More than 75 percent report being on one or more medications, but less than one-third say they were aware of the potential impact on their driving performance. Per vehicle mile traveled, rates of deadly crashes start to rise at age 75, and continue to go up sharply after age 80.
Due to their physical fragility, older drivers are 17 times more likely than those between the ages of 25 and 64 to be killed in a crash. In 2014 alone, there were more than 5,700 elderly drivers killed and another 221,000 injured in motor vehicle accidents.
We're likely to be seeing much more of this, as the number of licensed drivers over 65 increased by 20 percent from 1999 to 2009 and is estimated to rise sharply again over the next two decades.
Keeping Oklahoma Senior Drivers Safe
While many states have special licensing provisions when it comes to older drivers (such as increased frequency of license renewal and vision testing) Oklahoma does not. Licenses are renewed in the state every four years. Obtaining a license is contingent upon someone being able to pass a written test and vision test - and that goes for drivers who are 16 or 90. However, individuals with concerns about the welfare of an elderly driver do have the option of contacting the Department of Public Safety for a request for action.
Physicians are permitted to make these reports, as well as "any verifiable source with direct knowledge of the medical condition that would render a driver unsafe." These include police officers, courts, family, friends, hospitals and other citizens. If the state Medical Advisory Board finds the source credible, it may require the driver to be evaluated.
Failure to pass certain provisions of that evaluation could result in license revocations or restrictions (i.e., limitations on times when a person can drive, etc.). This process is not limited to senior drivers, but that is the cohort for whom it is primarily used.
Boomers are living longer, and they are living healthier. That means many should be able to safely drive well into their golden years, with appropriate precautions.
Unavoidable Accident Defense
In Oklahoma City car accidents involving senior drivers, we sometimes are confronted with the "unavoidable accident defense." In other jurisdictions, it's referred to as the "sudden emergency defense."
As established in the 1997 Oklahoma Supreme Court case of Bowers v. Wimberly, the operator of a motor vehicle who, while driving, becomes suddenly stricken by fainting or a loss of consciousness from an unforeseen cause and is unable to control the vehicle cannot be charged with negligence or gross negligence. Examples might arise when a senior driver suffers a sudden heart attack or stroke while driving. However, it is only applicable in cases where the condition was not foreseeable. If there is evidence the driver knew or should have known the condition could arise behind the wheel, they may still be liable.
If you have questions regarding your Oklahoma City car accident claim, our injury attorneys can help.