By Nina Bell
Every year that we age, we lose abilities that we often take for granted: vision, hearing, dexterity and the list goes on. Research has shown that these age-related declines can significantly affect driving skills.
According to the National Safety Council, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of accidental deaths among people age 65 to 74 and the second leading cause among those age 75 and older. Furthermore, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that seniors age 80 and older have the highest rate of fatal crashes per mile driven — even higher than for teens.
The National Safety Council notes that older drivers do have less miles on their cars than younger drives, are less likely to drink and drive, speed or drive without a license, and are more likely to wear their seat belts. However, when they do crash, they often cannot recover.
With the population of senior citizens increasing exponentially with the aging of the baby boomers, the number of senior drivers on the roads will follow suit. The National Institutes for Health points out that driving is a complicated task, requiring excellent hearing and vision, ability to pay close attention to many things along the route such as traffic signals, pedestrians, bicycles and more. Quick reaction times to each incident is required for safety. Because of the decline in abilities, senior citizens may not realize it, but they often will struggle with general navigation such as turning left and right within their lane.
In a study of older adults, the NIH found five common mistakes made by those age 65 and older: 1) failing to yield the right of way; 2) failing to stay in their lane; 3) misjudging the time or distance needed to turn in front of traffic; 4) failing to stop completely at a stop sign; and 5) driving too slowly.
Requirements for senior citizen drivers vary by state, with most of them not requiring routine physical or eye examinations for driver’s license renewals. In Pennsylvania, a select few (approximately 1,900 people per month) ages 45 and older are randomly chosen for a physical examination before renewing their license. The rest of the population can simply renew by mail or internet. About 16 percent of the state’s population is over age 65, which represents about 2 million people. Considering that Pennsylvania Department of Transportation randomly tests people from a larger demographic (ages 45 and older), a very small number of senior citizens are actually receiving driving examinations for license renewal. Other states don’t perform any testing. In some cases, older adults are fine as safe and conscientious drivers; in other cases, they are endangering themselves and others when sitting behind the wheel.
In today’s world of travel, driving is often a privilege that is hard to give up. But, if you are over age 65 and still drive, here are some driving tips to keep you and others safe:
n Limit driving in bad weather, during rush hours and on high-speed freeways
n Limit night driving as vision is often more impaired when it’s dark.
n Plan your route in advance and use familiar roads whenever possible.
n Give driving your full attention by not smoking, eating, or using your cell phone.
n Do not drive when you are taking medication as it will often cause slower reaction times.
n If applicable, wear your hearing aids and glasses/contacts when driving to improve your senses.
n Keep your car in good repair
n Maximize your visibility by keeping your windshield and mirrors clear and wiper blades in optimal working order.
Bell, Ph.D., MPH, is a public health professor with Ashford University. You can email her at email@example.com.
Learn more online
If you have access to the internet, The American Association of Retired People (AARP) has an online test “Are you a smart driver?” that can also help determine your driving quality. This 10-question quiz (found in the home-garden/transportation section of aarp.org) reveals your level of understanding of driving and the skills necessary to operate a motor vehicle.