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Who is responsible for elderly drivers' car accidents? Part 2

Last week, we began a discussion of the potential car accident risks posed by elderly drivers, and whether doctors or any other individuals have a responsibility to take away their patients' driver's license or otherwise inhibit their driving privileges if they feel that the patients may pose a danger to themselves or others on the road.

This issue is one that is only likely to grow in frequency and severity in the coming years. According to a new federal report, the number of U.S. drivers over the age of 65 is expected to reach 57 million by 2030, nearly double the number of elderly drivers on the road in 2007. It seems clear that there should be some streamlined, consistent process to determine when those drivers can no longer safely operate a motor vehicle.

As of today, such a process does not exist. California is one of just seven states with a mandatory reporting requirement for doctors. Here, doctors are required to report drivers that suffer from "disorders characterized by lapses of consciousness" to local health authorities, who will then notify the DMV. However, doctors are permitted to use their own personal judgment to determine when their patients become too impaired to drive. Reports indicate that very few do so, usually because the family or other forces have intervened by that point. In addition, drivers over 70 are required to renew their driver's licenses in person in California.

So what is the answer? Many advocates worry that instituting a stricter doctor reporting requirement will cause elderly people to forego medical care entirely out of fear that their doctor visit will result in the loss of their driver's license. However, dangerous drivers that remain behind the wheel place themselves and everyone else on the road in harm.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Doctor sued over fatal crash by patient with dementia," Jessica Garrison and Alan Zarembo, Sept. 7, 2012

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