The Top 10 Causes of Senior Driving Accidents

Close up of man hands driving a car during sunlightThe population of seniors who are older than 65 has grown at a faster rate than any other age bracket, and they are continuing to drive longer than ever before. According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHA), there were 48 million licensed drivers ages 65 and older in 2020, which is nearly 70 percent more than there were two decades prior.

Data from the FHA also shows that the types of impairments that result from aging can greatly increase the risk of crash involvement for seniors. What types of accidents are seniors most involved in, and how can they be avoided?

Common Causes of Senior Driving Accidents

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA), “(a)s drivers age, their physical and mental abilities, driving behaviors, and crash risks all change, though age alone does not determine driving performance.” According to a 2017 retrospective study of fatal intersection crashes, crash rates were highest for drivers aged 85 or older. The study explains that “[o]lder adults face a number of challenges associated with natural aging, including sensory, perceptual, cognitive and motor declines that may impact their driving.”

Many older drivers also take medications which can impair driving ability at any age but can be especially impairing for an older person. Studies have shown that higher levels of physical, cognitive, or visual impairment among older drivers are associated with increased risk of crash involvement.

Among drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2021, multiple-vehicle crashes at intersections accounted for 39 percent of the crashes for drivers 80 and older, compared with 20 percent for drivers ages 16-59.

Senior drivers are much more likely to be involved in intersection crashes while turning (especially while turning left), while merging, and while being overtaken. Below are the ten most common causes of driving accidents for seniors (in no particular order):

  1. Failure to yield the right-of-way;
  2. Driving with impaired vision;
  3. Missing traffic lights and signs at intersections;
  4. Looking but not seeing another vehicle, especially at intersections;
  5. Failure to look while changing lanes;
  6. Misjudging distances, such as the length of a gap between vehicles;
  7. Misjudging the speed of nearby vehicles, especially at intersections;
  8. Driving too slowly for the traffic conditions (when senior motorists drive under the speed limit, they create a road hazard by forcing those around them to make split-second decisions such as slamming on their brakes, swerving off the roadway, or making a dangerous lane change, actions that often lead to catastrophic accidents).
  9. Driving the wrong way (whether in a parking lot or on a one-way street, driving the wrong way can cause devastating head-on collisions; in a recent study, drivers over age 75 who caused wrong-way driving had lower test scores in the usual cognitive function tests performed at the time of license renewal);
  10. Driving while impaired by medications (the effects of certain medications or lack of a good night’s sleep can make seniors feel tired and inattentive, and impaired cognition and performance due to drowsiness and exhaustion is a leading cause of motor vehicle crashes according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).

On a positive note, in an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety survey of 2,500 drivers 65 and older, it was found that drivers with reported impairments in memory, vision, mobility, and/or medical conditions such as arthritis or diabetes were more likely than other drivers to self-limit their driving by making fewer trips, traveling shorter distances, or avoiding driving at night, on interstates, or in ice or snow.

Another positive finding was that mature judgment, years of driving experience, and good driving habits often can help senior drivers compensate for some diminished cognitive abilities. Still, some seniors don’t self-regulate or adjust their driving, including some who are exhibiting signs of cognitive impairment.

Dementia and Driving

Dementia not only directly affects driving abilities, but it also reduces a person’s capacity to recognize their own impairments or dangerous behaviors. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that a diagnosis of early-stage dementia doesn’t necessarily mean senior drivers must stop driving right away. If you or your loved one has been diagnosed with early-stage dementia, it’s very important that you discuss driving with your doctor to determine when you need to stop and how you will get around without getting behind the wheel. If you are concerned about whether a loved one with dementia who is driving should still be on the road, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does the senior driver confuse the gas and brake pedals or have difficulty working them? Drivers who lift their legs to move from the accelerator to the brake, rather than keeping a heel on the floor and pressing with the toes, may be signaling waning leg strength.
  • Does the senior driver weave between or straddle lanes? Signaling incorrectly or not at all when changing lanes can be particularly dangerous, especially if the driver fails to check mirrors or blind spots.
  • Does the senior driver seem to ignore or miss stop signs and other traffic signals? Or do they hit curbs while driving? Perhaps, the driver is inattentive or cannot spot the signs or the curb in a crowded, constantly moving visual field.
  • Do other drivers honk or pass frequently, even when the traffic stream is moving relatively slowly? This may indicate difficulty keeping pace with fast-changing conditions.
  • Does the driver become angry or confused while driving? Does the driver get lost or disoriented easily, even in familiar places, and sometimes forget their destination during a trip? This could indicate problems with working memory or early cognitive decline.

If you ride with a driver who exhibits one or more of the warning signs above, consider discussing the benefits of getting a comprehensive driving assessment to help identify and address any risky driving behaviors and maximize safety. Please read my recent article on driving assessments for seniors.

Having a Difficult Conversation with a Parent About Driving

What if your loved one really should not be driving anymore? What’s the best way to have such a difficult conversation? If you are planning this often difficult conversation with a loved one, please read my article about driving cessation for some suggestions to help you begin the conversation.

Plan Ahead for the Unexpected with the Living Trust Plus®

Although we try to be safe on the road, you never know when something as unexpected as a car accident could happen. This is why it is so important to be prepared! When you have an asset protection plan in place, you have peace of mind that you are well-protected and that you’ve communicated to loved ones what to do should something happen to you. The key is to prepare your incapacity plan, estate plan, and asset protection plan before you need it because with all of life’s uncertainties, you never know when that day will come.

At the Farr Law Firm, one of the most common types of asset protection we provide is the Living Trust Plus®, a special type of irrevocable asset protection trust that protects your assets from lawsuits plus probate plus the potentially catastrophic expenses of long-term care.

  • The Living Trust Plus irrevocable trust protects your assets from lawsuits, creditors, and judgments. Because you can’t take the property back after you transfer ownership into the Living Trust Plus, your creditors or a judgment holder can’t reach it, either, so if you are deemed to be at fault in any motor vehicle collision, the assets inside your trust will be protected from any possible judgment. But it is critical to do this before you have a motor vehicle accident. We have had two potential clients in the past month come to us after being sued for millions of dollars — one over what they thought was a minor fender bender. At that point — after an insurance claim has already been made or after a lawsuit has already been filed — it’s too late to protect your assets because of what’s known as the doctrine of “fraudulent conveyance,” meaning you can’t give away your assets to protect them from preexisting claims.
  • The Living Trust Plus also protects your assets from the expenses of long-term care by making those assets exempt in connection with the Veterans Aid and Attendance benefit (after the assets have been in trust for at least three years) and Medicaid benefits (after the assets have been in trust for at least five years).
  • With the Living Trust Plus, you give away ownership of the property to the trust, but you can retain full investment and management control of the trust assets by being trustee of your own trust, just as you would with a revocable living trust.
  • The Living Trust Plus enables you to qualify for government benefits. Assets that you own count against you for purposes of qualifying for certain government benefits, including Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance. You do not own the assets once you have placed them inside of a Living Trust Plus asset protection trust.

For most Americans over age 65, a Living Trust Plus® is the preferable form of Estate Planning because it includes asset protection for you and can also include asset protection for your children or other descendants. For purposes of Medicaid asset protection and veterans asset protection, this type of trust is the only type of self-settled asset protection trust that allows you to retain an interest in the trust while also protecting your assets from being counted by Medicaid and by the Veterans Administration.

If you’re a client or potential client who would like more information about Elder Law Planning, Elder Care Planning, Estate Planning, Long-term Care Planning, Medicaid Asset Protection, Dementia Planning, or any of the other services that we offer, please call our office to make an appointment:

Fairfax Estate Planning Attorney: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law Attorney: 540-479-1435
Maryland Estate Lawyer: 301-519-8041
DC Living Trust Attorney: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.