Concerns about safe driving often rise alongside one's age. Although older drivers have more experience when it comes to driving, concerns often arise about their ability to continue to do so safely. Typically these are the concerns of younger drivers, however, in some cases seniors are also aware of their potential limitations behind the wheel. In accidents, seniors are more likely to be hit than to actually hit another vehicle. Accidents may, however, be the result of actions taken by the senior driver, such as using poor judgments when making left-hand turns. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) Traffic Safety Facts for 2010 shows that older drivers made up sixteen percent of licensed drivers on the road. Of those drivers, 189,000 were injured as a result of crashes, which totaled eight percent of all crash related injuries. However, the latest Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's fatality facts for seniors, indicates that less than one percent of senior fatalities are caused by motor vehicle crashes. The report, which was taken in 2010, notes that 4139 crash-related fatalities involving persons over the age of 70 occurred within that year. The greatest reason for this, however, was due to their inability to survive injuries. The report also reveals that for every mile traveled the risk of a fatal crash increases for people who are over the age of 70. This worsens as a person reaches 85. While not all older drivers experience problems that immediately affect their driving, it is important for seniors to understand what potential problems they may face in regards to their driving future.
Changes that Affect Driving
As a person ages, a number of changes may occur that affect his or her ability to drive. The deterioration of one's vision or hearing are two of the most common changes that impact driving. Most everyone will experience changes to their vision. Some of these changes are the result of diseases that affect the eyes, such as glaucoma. Other changes to the vision are normal and to be expected. Visual changes may hinder a person's ability to see the road, signs, or people crossing the street. It may cause distortion of images or blinding glare from lights. When a person's hearing is hindered either by injury or age, he or she is unable to hear sounds that could prevent them from causing or otherwise getting into an accident. These sounds include horns, sirens from police cars or ambulances, or bells at railroad crossings.Other issues may also present themselves that are more often than not associated with age, such as decreased cognitive functions and motor skill, or certain medical conditions. When a person's cognitive skill diminished, he or she is unable to process what is being seen or heard as quickly as needed. As a result judgment and reactions may be slower. Decreased motor functions may also make it difficult to react as swiftly as needed. Medical conditions may also be problematic for seniors. Dementia, Alzheimer's disease, ALS, arthritis, are just some of the conditions that may hamper one's driving ability to the point that he or she is a danger to themselves and others on the road.
Tips on Becoming a Safer Senior Driver
Older drivers, even those without any noticeable problems, may want to take preventative measures to ensure that they are safe while driving. People who feel uneasy about certain aspects of driving should take steps to modify how they drive. This may mean driving during the daytime and limiting night driving, avoiding high traffic areas, or avoiding the freeways. Another step that can be taken is to take a driving class for seniors. These types of classes are typically for drivers who are over the age of 50, and allows them to assess their driving skills and knowledge. Some courses, such as the Driver Safety Program offered by AARP, may also result in an insurance discount.
When to Stop Driving
Driving is such an important part of a person's independence that it is difficult for some people to accept that they should no longer get behind the wheel of a vehicle. For other people the decision to stop driving is a simple one to make. Anytime a person feels that driving is too stressful or feels that he or she is a danger on the road, it is time to stop driving. Although the loss of a driver's license
is difficult, giving it up before a severe accident may save a life. Often it falls to loved ones to convince elderly family members or friends that it is no longer safe to drive. If a person fears that an older driver should no longer drive, there are certain signs that he or she should look out for. Seniors should also be aware of these signs and should be willing to discontinue driving. A pattern of near crashes, crashes, and minor accidents are very obvious signs to look out for. Failure to stay within his or her lane when driving, difficulty seeing pedestrians, signs, and other objects are also serious signs that a person may need to stop driving. Other signs to look for includes routinely hitting curbs or sidewalks, dents and scrapes to the car, fatigue, drowsiness, or dozing while behind the wheel.
How to Determine if Driving is a Problem
If a person has difficulty convincing a loved one to stop driving, they may need the assistance of an objective outside source. Professional senior driving assessments can be scheduled at locations such as hospitals, the Veterans Administration Medical Centers, or rehabilitation. A senior's medical doctor may also provide a referral. The assessment involves several steps. An elderly driver would first meet with a social worker who would discuss why the referral was needed and how the driver would be affected by the loss of his or her driver's license
. The driver then has his or her vision, cognition, strength, and flexibility checked by an occupational therapist. He or she would also require a neuropsychological examination. The final part of the assessment is the actual behind the wheel driving test. If possible, based on the results of the evaluation, the therapist will take steps to work with the driver to improve driving skills and allow them to continue driving. Drivers are taught basic safe driving rules, and their vehicle is fitted with devices that will benefit the driver and help support these efforts. Mirrors that provide the driver with a panoramic view, as well as hand controls for brakes, are just some of the devices that may be recommended.
What Can States Do About Senior Driving
In some states additional precautions are taken to ensure that older drivers are safe drivers. For example, in Pennsylvania doctors must by law report any disabilities that a senior has which will affect his or her ability to drive a car. These disabilities are often cognitive, motor or visual in nature. In California, any driver who is over the age of seventy and is involved in more than one car crash a year must be retested.There are additional steps that could be implemented to ensure senior driving safety. Deficit screening would require the screening of any person who is suspected of having a decline in driving performance or health due to age. Tests could be administered by health professionals or by professionals who routinely work with the elder population. Another potential step would be to screen seniors every time they renew their driver's license. Screening would reveal whether drivers pose a risk and require further testing or if they are capable. Some states have already contemplated tougher licensing laws for seniors; however, they have been met with resistance on the basis of age discrimination. The DMV and insurance companies are both potential ways that unsafe drivers are identified. Records from either would reveal any patterns that indicate that an individual is a high-risk driver.