The Plight of the Aging Drivers

Most adults, especially men, view their drivers license as a mark of independence. This independence stems from owning their first car as a teenager. While the automobile is a powerful tool for independence and mobility, it is also potentially dangerous. At what age somebody becomes too old to drive is a sensitive subject as losing a license affects people’s freedom and mobility. Many older people who are still very mentally agile are disconcerted by the fact that their means of getting around may disappear. A fear that they might led them to a change in their lifestyle.

Statistically speaking, older adults are nine times more likely to be involved in fatal car accidents than drivers aged 25 to 69, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Accidents involving older drivers can cause injury to both the older driver and other drivers and pedestrians. In 2000, older adults made up 9% of the resident population, but accounted for 13% of all traffic fatalities and 17% of all pedestrian fatalities.

Senior drivers over seventy do pose a risk. Statistics also show that more elderly drivers over the age of seventy are involved in fatal car accidents. There is concern on this matter because older drivers don’t always do well in traffic situations due to slower reflexes and impaired vision. Generally. most senior drivers are good, safe drivers. They know their limitations and do their best to follow the rules of the road. But even the best and the safest drivers can have accidents when there are factors that impair their judgment or senses.

Some of the things that poses concern for senior drivers include poor vision, poor hearing, poor flexibility, limited range of motion, reduced reaction time and medications.

Other conditions or situations that can impair a driver’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle include:

Cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration can reduce visual acuity and limit visual fields, so a yearly eye exam is imperative for the elderly driver.

Something as simple as a clogged ear passage can create a hearing loss. A doctor can identify the problem and offer solutions, so have elderly hearing checked yearly.

Good drivers rely on looking out rear and side windows as well as checking rearview mirrors. When a driver lacks the ability to turn his head and shoulders to look outside, he may not see oncoming vehicles or obstacles traveling in the car’s blindspot.

Many elderly drivers take several medications for health conditions. Those medications may interact with each other causing drowsiness or confusion.

As we age, we slow down, and reaction times diminish. Keeping extra space between the driver’s and other cars can help reduce the likelihood of accidents, but there comes a time when reactions are too slow for road safety. When people begin to realize that their senses aren’t as sharp as they used to be, their defense mechanisms kick in. They don’t want to admit that they are forgetting things. They refuse to admit that they can’t see or hear as clearly as before. They try to keep this information from their families and friends. One reason for such behavior is that they don’t want to become dependent on others.

The keys to reducing accidents and unsafe driving are for older adults and their family members to recognize signs of unsafe driving, intervene appropriately, and find alternative means of transportation before safety becomes an issue.