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Injuries and Fatalities Up Among Older Drivers

In 2023, Dane County saw an increase in serious injuries and deaths of older drivers involved in traffic crashes. Seriously injured were 35 drivers aged 65 or older, and 8 more died. This is an overall increase of 23% from the previous four-year average, according to a new report from the 49-member Dane County Traffic Safety Commission (TSC), which reviews fatal traffic crashes quarterly. In the most
recent quarter, last October through December, two of the eight fatalities were
persons 65 or older.

Cheryl Wittke, executive director of Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County and TSC co-chair, said in Dane County the number of crashes in 2023 involving older drivers was the highest since 2019. “In 2023, drivers 65+ accounted for 25% of all fatalities, compared to 18% (1,473) of all crashes. Per mile traveled,
older drivers crash more often than middle-aged adults, though not as often as young drivers.”

She added that older drivers tend to get hurt more seriously or killed in traffic crashes. “Today’s automatic safety features make a big difference. With standard side airbags, vehicles are seeing improved side impact protection, especially for older drivers. Lane change alerts and automatic braking help all drivers, but especially older drivers.”

Wittke said these features may help older drivers compensate for the normal processes of aging that can affect ability to drive over time. “Less flexible joints or other medical conditions may make it harder to turn your head to look around, turn the steering wheel quickly or brake safely. Changes in eyesight, hearing loss, or effects of certain medications may also impact driving. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to quit driving.”

Good news is that older drivers are less likely to engage in risky driving behavior. That is supported by a 2023 AAA study showing older drivers are less likely to speed or drive distracted, such as using phones for calls or texts. They’re also more likely to wear seatbelts and avoid aggressive driving, such as red light running, quick lane changes, or tailgating.

TSC member Nick Jarmusz, AAA of Wisconsin, added that a number of available driving courses can help older drivers adopt preventive measures and understand physical changes that put them and others on the road more at risk. “AAA’s RoadWise Driver senior defensive driving course offers tips to help mature drivers compensate for physical changes and take advantage of today’s advanced, risk- reducing driving techniques. After completing they may even qualify for a discount on auto insurance.”

Jarmusz cautions drivers who have been behind the wheel for decades that changes may be so subtle they at first don’t recognize them. If drivers are experiencing any of the following, he recommends a discussion with their physician and families:

  • Frequently having trouble reading traffic control signs
  • Feeling stressed when driving
  • Having friends or family express concern with your driving
  • Difficulty looking over your shoulder when changing lanes or backing
  • Taking medications that cause drowsiness

“These don’t necessarily mean they need to stop driving,” he said. “They may want to self- impose restrictions, such as not driving after dark, in bad weather, or during heavy traffic times. In extreme cases, there may come a time when stopping driving is the safest decision for themselves and
others on the road.”

Wittke added that certain traffic situations can be especially risky for older drivers. These include becoming distracted or confused by events around them, failing to yield at intersections, misjudging the speed of oncoming vehicles, and driving on high-speed roadways. “Most important is being aware of these risks and taking action before anyone gets hurt, whether that is to take a safe driving course, restrict driving, or seek alternative ways of getting around town.”

She said Wisconsin is one of only 16 states that allows 8-year-license renewal regardless of age. Like 44 states, Wisconsin requires proof of adequate vision at license renewal for older drivers. Staff at the Department of Motor Vehicles have a responsibility to observe whether the functional ability of a driver may interfere with driving, and if so, to require additional tests or a medical report. “In general, simply getting older shouldn’t affect your safety and fitness to drive. With many older drivers enjoying better health than in the past, they can function more safely today and for a longer time,” Wittke said.


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getting involved

The partnerships built by Safe Communities have created a safer community, with more opportunities for education and awareness. We continue to envision a safer future for the people who live in Madison and Dane County, with instances of unnecessary deaths and serious injuries are infrequent, rather than a daily occurrence.


Treatment Key

Safe communities has complied a list of abbreviation definitions for finding the right treatment for you.

MAT: Medication for Addiction Treatment.
OP: Outpatient Treatment – person lives at home or in the community, attends. individual and group therapy, these can include or not include MAT.
IOP: Intensive Outpatient Treatment – person lives at home or in the community, attends individual and extended groups, 9-12 hours a week.
Residential: person lives at the facility for a period of at least 14 days, some last as many as 45 days.
PHP: Partial Hospitalization Program is a structured mental health treatment program that runs for several hours each day, three to five days per week.
DBT: Dialectical behavior therapy is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that integrates mindfulness techniques.