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How to Reduce Risk: Elderly Drivers and Serious Car Accidents

The importance of being mobile and independent often grows with age and a part of remaining mobile is the ability to drive, especially for elderly drivers in suburban and rural areas of Pennsylvania. However, drivers aged 80 and older have the second highest rate of fatal traffic accidents of any group. As the baby boomer generation continues to age, it's important that driving safety for older drivers is addressed for the well-being of all age groups on the road.

Whether a Doctor Should Have Reported a Medical Condition

One of the ways that some states address whether an older driver is fit to drive before license renewal occurs is the use of reporting. In a few states, such as Pennsylvania, medical providers may report drivers who are medically not able to drive to the state Department of Transportation. A recent court case in California addressed what happens when a doctor fails to report a medical condition that may have an impact on an elderly person's ability to drive. While the case does not impact the law in Pennsylvania, it examined whether a physician should be held responsible if an elderly patient causes a car accident.

According to NBC News, the doctor's patient was an 85-year-old woman with dementia who drove into the path of an oncoming car. The 85-year-old woman survived the crash, but the woman's 90-year-old partner was a passenger in her vehicle and died from injuries sustained in the crash. The family of the 90-year-old man believed the doctor bore responsibility and should have deemed the driver a danger, as the doctor had done with other patients. The 85-year-old woman suffered memory loss since 2007 and was prescribed an Alzheimer's drug in 2009. Even though the doctor was involved in taking other patient's licenses away, he did not think the woman's condition was severe enough to report her condition. For failing to report the driver to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the family filed a wrongful death suit against the doctor. The jury in the case agreed with the doctor's judgment and found in his favor.

Medical Condition Reporting in Pennsylvania

Over the next 20 years, the number of elderly drivers in the United States will triple therefore the ability of older drivers to safely be on the road will likely only grow as an issue. Many states do not have specific license requirements for older drivers and few have reporting requirements.

In Pennsylvania there are several ways that a driver can be identified to complete a physical, vision or driver's exam before a license can be renewed. All physicians and other professionals authorized to diagnose and treat disorders and disabilities must report any person diagnosed with a condition that impairs his or her ability to safely drive a motor vehicle to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. PennDOT also receives information about the safety of older drivers from police reports. If a driver is identified in a police report, PennDOT may request medical or driver's exams for those reported. Concerned family members and other concerned people may also forward information to PennDOT. Drivers identified by letter may be required to submit medical information. Finally, PennDOT randomly identifies 1,900 drivers over the age of 45 every month to participate in re-testing at the time of their next renewal and also requires the randomly chosen drivers to take physical and vision exams.

As drivers age a delicate line needs to be walked between the ability to stay mobile and road safety. If you or a loved one has suffered injury in a car accident, contact an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss your legal rights.