OLDER DRIVERS ARE GETTING SAFER
One of the most traumatic crisis of aging is having to stop driving. Increasingly, seniors are taking control of their driving futures. They want to be the ones who determine when it is time to hang up the keys.
A three-year study from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows that older drivers are becoming safer drivers. Between 1996 and 2008, seniors 75 and older showed declines of 45% or more in fatal accidents. This decline was greater than for any other age group.
RISK FACTORS FOR OLDER DRIVERS
Drivers 85 and older still have a higher rate of deadly crashes than any other age group except teenagers. This may not be directly related to older drivers being bad drivers. Older drivers tend to avoid freeway driving where crashes per mile are lower. Because of the frailty that increases with age, they are also more likely than younger drivers to die in car accidents.
Other Risk Factors:
- Stiffer joints
- Impaired judgement
- Slower reflexes
- Weaker muscles
- Changing vision
- Changing hearing
- Night driving glare
- Some medications
- Medical conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, diabetes or memory loss
TAKE PREVENTIVE MEASURES
Some preventive measures are common sense, and some are programs specifically designed for the elderly.
Take a driver’s safety course. They are offered through AARP and AAA in both Spanish and English. There are mandatory insurance premium discounts for those who take a course.
Take advantage of CarFit, which is sponsored by AAA, AARP, and the American Occupational Therapy Association. CarFit is offered in most states to help seniors adjust or modify their vehicles to be safer.
Get behind-the-wheel coaching and skills assessment from an occupational therapist. They can help you compensate for impairments.
Limit the number of miles you put in each week. Driving 100 – 200 miles a week will allow you to remain independent but lower your risk.
- Have your vision checked annually.
- Order glasses that optimize your vision for driving.
- Take particular care with left turns. Look Left-Right-Left before turning.
- Drive during daylight hours.
- Dine out before dark. There is a reason for the Early Bird Senior Special.
- Eliminate the Sunday afternoon long, leisurely drive.
- Minimize the number of left turns when you are out. Left turns are a leading cause of accidents with older drivers.
- Choose a medium to small car.
DEVELOP YOUR OWN PLAN
Rather than waiting for your adult children to set criteria for driving, be proactive and set up your own program. Here are some of the things you can do. Put it in writing.
- Monitor your driving, notice impairments, and make adjustments.
- Find ways to compensate for you limitations.
- Use cruise control to limit speed.
- Scan field of vision and mirrors carefully.
- Eliminate distractions such as eating, listening to the radio, texting, talking on the phone, or even talking while driving.
- Remember you are not the only person on the road.
THE DEMENTIA FACTOR
One of the wild cards of aging is whether you will or will not get dementia. The ElderAuthority has written excessively about dementia: the types, the symptoms, how to prevent it, and how to manage it. The problem with seniors monitoring their own driving limitations is that those with dementia do not recognize they are handicapped.
The senior can and should create the plan and criteria for continuing to drive. Nevertheless, family and friends always have an obligation to notice if the older driver is becoming at risk to him/herself or to others.
Signs of unsafe driving:
- Having “close” calls or accidents.
- People honking.
- Difficulty staying in the lane.
- Difficulty judging distances.
- Driving too slowly.
- Confusion about directions in familiar places.
- Accidentally hitting the gas pedal instead of the brake.
- Getting frequent tickets or warnings.
You have no control over getting older. You do have a say in how safely you drive and the precautions you take to remain driving longer.