If you have ever driven with an elderly relative, you may have noticed how his driving habits have changed over the years. Your retired father scans the intersection for cars, but completely misses the cyclist in the bike lane. He stopped just in time, and says it’s just because he’s not used to them—but the truth may be that many older drivers don’t see oncoming traffic even when they’re looking for it.

Why Are Older Drivers Likely to Be Involved in an Intersection Accident?

In order to understand the reasons elderly drivers are at risk at four-way stops, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) conducted a study comparing driving habits of elderly drivers (age 70 and older) to those of younger adult drivers (ages 35-54). Using data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey (NMVCCS) from the years 2005-2007, the study found that older drivers make mistakes uncommon to middle-age drivers, including:

Improper surveillance.

While many middle-age drivers failed to look in all directions before entering an intersection, older drivers were more likely to look, but fail to see, objects in the road. Over 70 percent of crashes among older drivers were caused by inadequate surveillance, or looking-but-not-seeing other vehicles, pedestrians, or oncoming traffic.

Medical factors.

In roughly six percent of all elderly driver crashes, physical factors were to blame for a driver drifting or veering out of his lane. While many incidents involved medical events, such as fainting or seizures, they also involved restrictions due to ailing health or loss of mobility (such as a failure to turn the head or quickly move the foot from the gas to the brake).

Visual impairment.

Elderly drivers were more likely to misjudge gaps between vehicles or accurately assess another vehicle's speed. The study made a link between the ability to judge speed and distance and visual impairments, as older drivers were seven times as likely to have a diagnosed visual impairment in these crashes.


Older drivers were likelier to perform illegal maneuvers, ignore traffic controls, and daydream behind the wheel. While these actions are dangerous on their own, the study found that older drivers were also more likely to overcompensate when they realized their mistake, leading to a crash.

How Can I Keep My Loved Ones Safe on the Road?

The easiest way to ensure that your older relatives are staying safe behind the wheel is to ride with them as a passenger to keep an eye on their health and driving habits. If you think it’s time for them to hang up the keys, approach the conversation with concern, rather than accusations. A good way to break the ice about the topic is to share this article with your friends and family on Facebook to get everyone talking about the risks of driving into old age.

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James Roswold
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James Roswold is a Kansas & Missouri personal injury, workers comp, and medical malpractice attorney.