Motor Vehicle Crashes

Motor vehicle-related injuries rank as the leading mechanism of injury that brings elderly patients to a trauma center in the United States. Motor vehicle crashes are the most common mechanism for fatal incidents in elderly persons through 80 years of age.1 Emergency physicians should anticipate an increase in motor vehicle trauma involving the elderly due to the growth in this subset of the population and the increase in elderly drivers and occupants. Recent data by Li and colleagues 5 have shown that the crash fatality rate among the elderly is considerably higher than for younger age groups. As noted earlier, similar effects of acute and chronic medical conditions can influence the incidence of motor vehicle crashes. The patient may have decreased cerebral and motor skills and may have memory and judgment losses that can compound the difficulty in operating a motor vehicle. The patient also may have decreased auditory or visual acuity that makes it more difficult to recognize dangerous traffic situations. Furthermore, decreased strength and slower reaction times may hinder an individual's ability to respond to a hazardous traffic situation.1 One study reported that the number of motor vehicle crashes per driver's license increased with age in elderly drivers. Elderly drivers typically collided in an intersection with a crossing vehicle, which they reported not noticing or seeing so late they did not have enough time to avoid it. 6

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