Everyone ages differently, so some people can continue to drive into their seventies, eighties, and even beyond while others cannot or should not. However, the statistics on older adults and driving can be sobering.
Older adults and accidents
Statistics show that the elderly are more likely than other drivers to receive traffic citations for failing to yield, turning improperly, and running red lights and stop signs—all indications of decreased driving ability. It is a fact that older adults are at higher risk for road accidents than other age groups. Older drivers are more likely to get into multiple-vehicle accidents than younger people do, and the accidents are more dangerous for them than for younger drivers. A person 65 or older who is involved in a car accident is more likely to be seriously hurt, more likely to require hospitalization, and more likely to die than younger people involved in the same crash. Truth is, fatal crash rates rise sharply after a driver has reached the age of 70.
There are environmental factors as well. These affect people of all ages and include signs and road markings that are difficult to see or read, complex and confusing intersections, older vehicles that lack automatic safety features, and newer dashboard instrument panels with multiple displays. Such factors are often amplified in those seniors who experience a decline in their ability to drive, and become very risky. For all of these reasons, you want to stay alert to your own driving experiences and be willing to admit and discuss any difficulties and concerns with a relative or someone else you trust.
Lessening aging risk factors that affect safe driving
It is easy to overlook problems that develop slowly over time because we typically accommodate our daily activities to what we can comfortably do. Consequently, issues like vision or hearing loss, decreasing physical activity, growing forgetfulness, or the impact of prescription and over-the-counter drugs are hardly noticed. Any one or a combination of these conditions can make driving hazardous.
Decrease risks by taking control of your health
The most important and positive action you can take is to decrease the driving risks associated with aging. Do not wait until problems become serious. Tending to your health and well-being on a regular basis can help in your efforts to stay independent and mobile. The most common risk factors related to safe driving are listed below along with suggested steps you can take:
Warning signs of unsafe driving
Driving is a complex function and problems can come up in a number of ways. If you begin to find driving more difficult than before, be alert for changes that make driving unsafe. If you notice any of the warning signs listed below, it is time to reassess your risks. If you are in a position to observe these in another driver, see if any of them are reflected in your own driving. It’s hard to do but extremely important. Many small warning signs of unsafe driving can add up to the decision to quit driving.
Unsafe driving warning signs
- Problems on the road. Abrupt lane changes, braking, or acceleration. Failing to use the turn signal, or keeping the signal on without changing lanes. Drifting into other lanes. Driving on the wrong side of the road or in the shoulder.
- Trouble with reflexes. Trouble reading signs or navigating directions to get somewhere. Range-of-motion issues (looking over the shoulder, moving the hands or feet). Trouble moving from the gas to the brake pedal, or confusing the two pedals. Slow reaction to changes in the driving environment.
- Increased anxiety and anger in the car. Feeling more nervous or fearful while driving or feeling exhausted after driving. Frustration or anger at other drivers but oblivious to the frustration of other drivers, not understanding why they are honking. Reluctance from friends or relatives to be in the car with the senior driving
- Trouble with memory or handling change. Getting lost more often. Missing highway exits or backing up after missing an exit. Trouble paying attention to signals, road signs, pavement markings, or pedestrians.
Close calls and increased citations. More frequent “close calls” (i.e., almost crashing), or dents and scrapes on the car or on fences, mailboxes, garage doors, and curbs. Increased traffic tickets or “warnings” by traffic or law enforcement officers.
WRITTEN BY MONIKA WHITE, PH.D. DOUG RUSSELL, LCSW, JOANNA SAISAN AND GINA KEMP M.A.