BUFFALO, NY - An accident which resulted in three fatalities, and which was caused by an 87 year old driver traveling the wrong direction on the NYS Thruway has renewed a robust, public debate regarding elderly drivers.
Some believe New York should follow the lead of 33 other states, which have more stringent requirements for drivers seeking to retain their driving privileges once they reach a certain age, while others feel such legislation would be capricious and discriminatory.
The later cite statistics which indicate elderly drivers are not necessarily any more of a risk on the highways than younger ones and in some cases are involved in statistically fewer incidents.
Figures compiled by the National Safety Council (see PDF file to the left of this story) show that in 2009, there were 211 million licensed drivers in the U.S., 13.8 million (or 6.5%) of which were over the age of 75.
But they only accounted for 3.3% of accidents, far fewer than the largest age group of drivers involved in accidents (25 to 34 year olds) who accounted for nearly 20% of mishaps.
However, it is also true that there are fewer drivers in the 75+ category, and they generally spend far less time and log far fewer miles on the road than working adults who commute to and from their jobs every day or who may be transporting their children to various activities.
As well, the statistics show the accident rate among drivers over 75 (at 4 out of every 100 drivers) is half the accident rate for drivers who are between the ages of 35 and 44 (8 out of every 100) and one fifth of the accident rate of drivers who are under the age of 19 (where 20 out of every 100 drivers was involved in an accident).
"There's a lot of people who can be very safe well into their 70's and 80's driving," said Kerry Donnelly, assistant manager of driving training at AAA of WNY.
Donnelly, who does not believe the state should impose additional restrictions on elderly drivers, helps oversee a program offered by AAA to conduct "in-car" evaluations of drivers.
"The oldest person we ever pass a senior evaluation was 95 and he passed it with flying colors....on the flip side, we actually had an evaluation with a 40 year old woman who lost her license...and it took a lot of lessons to get her back up to par," Donnelly said.