The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) estimates that as of 2014, there were more than 24.4 million licensed drivers aged 70 or older. Compared with younger drivers, these elderly drivers are more likely to be involved in certain types of accidents, especially collisions at intersections or from failing to yield to the right-of-way.
The aging population is steadily growing, and by the year 2020 there will be more than 40 million drivers aged 65 or older behind the wheel. While getting older isn’t necessarily a reason to stay off the road, regularly taking note of your driving abilities is an important aspect of healthy aging.
Seniors and Driving
Many seniors resist the idea of giving up their car keys, seeing it as a loss of independence. However, certain health conditions that come with aging can make it difficult to continue driving and can make it dangerous not only for the senior, but for other drivers on the road with them. Some of the reasons that can hinder an elderly person’s ability to be a safe driver include:
- Changes in vision. Being able to see clearly is a key component of safe driving; accurately reading the speedometer, street signs and noticing pedestrians on the side of the road requires good eyesight. However, changes in vision are normal with aging, especially in those aged 75 or older. Plus, certain eye diseases like glaucoma, macular degeneration or cataracts can affect vision, making it unsafe to be behind the wheel.
- Issues with hearing. Hearing loss can happen gradually, affecting the ability to hear sirens, horns honking or tires screeching. As over one-third of seniors have some hearing loss, it’s important to note these changes before continuing to drive.
- Stiff joints or muscles. Health conditions like arthritis can make it difficult to move; even just turning the head to check out a blind spot might not be possible due to stiff muscles or joints. It may be hard to turn the steering wheel or press the brake, affecting the ability to drive safely.
- Slower reaction time. Being able to react quickly to other cars or people on the road is also key to avoid accidents. Reflexes may slow down or attention spans may dwindle, making it difficult to make fast decisions and follow the rules of the road.
- Memory issues. Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can make it unsafe to drive, as memory and decision-making skills become affected. Getting in the car and forgetting how to get where you are going, or not recognizing familiar neighborhoods can cause definite problems behind the wheel.
- Medication side effects. The elderly tend to be on a variety of medications, some of which have side effects like drowsiness or dizziness that can affect the ability to drive.
Safe Driving Tips for Seniors
Seniors should regularly have their driving skills evaluated by a trained professional, like an occupational therapist or driving rehabilitation specialist. They can also consider taking a driving refresher course to update their driving skills. It’s better to be safe than sorry; if road conditions are poor, don’t attempt to go out and drive anywhere, as icy or slippery roads can make it difficult for any driver to remain safe. Seniors can also avoid highways when possible; choose roads with less traffic and left hand turns as needed.
There are also services that offer transportation to seniors to help them get around town. Or, consider public transportation by bus or train if possible. Seniors can also discuss their situation with friends and family members to set up a driving schedule to help them get to the grocery store or appointments.
For more information about American Senior Communities, please visit www.ASCSeniorCare.com.