As many of us know, driving offers a keen sense of independence for our senior citizens and having to give up a drivers license can be a difficult decision for our elders and their families.
Whether it is going to the doctor's office, pharmacist or just the grocery store, seniors depend on being able to drive to those locations. We understand that a drivers license is an absolute necessity for many and there is no perfect time to relinquish the precious right, but statistics show that accidents seem to increase for our older adults. According to AAA, in 2014, 5709 senior drivers were killed and 221,000 were injured in traffic crashes.
With these alarming statistics, National Institute on Aging believes family members need to pay close attention to their loved ones and possibly go for a ride with them to evaluate driving performance. While riding as a passenger, it is a good idea to determine if:
- The rules of the road are followed including proper speed limit, obeying signs and signals
- The driver is aware of other vehicles, motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians
- The driver merges properly and maintains lane accordingly
- The driver experiences no difficulty using gas and brake pedals
As a general rule, when comparing senior driving to other age groups, seniors are considered safe drivers. Our older population seems to do everything possible to help reduce their risk of injury by wearing their seat belts, obeying speed limits and not driving as when it gets dark outside. However, in an Everyday Health article by Krisha McCoy, when it comes time to giving up their cars, seniors may resist adamantly. She adds, “AAA reports 90 percent of senior drivers said losing their license would be problematic for their lives.”
According to an article from the HealthGuide.org site, it's normal for driving abilities to change as we age. By reducing risk factors and incorporating safe driving practices, many of us can continue driving safely long into our senior years. However, we do have to pay attention to any warning signs that age is interfering with our driving safety, and if so, make appropriate adjustments. It makes perfect sense to check for these health conditions that may jeopardize safe driving:
- Hearing difficulties - Have hearing checked annually
- Vision impairment - Have a professional examine eyes every year and make sure lens prescriptions are current.
- Conflicting medications - Evaluate carefully.
- Arthritis, slow reflexes and range of motion problems - Is the driver flexible and healthy enough to make the proper turns necessary?
- Alzheimer’s, Dementia and other memory challenges - Is the driver missing exits and getting lost? It might be worth visiting the doctor for an evaluation.
For families, the driving decisions can be very difficult to determine. Even having professionals evaluate driving habits and performance can be challenging to evaluate. Certified driving instructor Cynthia Burt told USA Today, “Sometimes driving performances vary from day to day.” Burt added, “To really examine driver performance, it takes monitoring drivers which includes riding along as a passenger and be willing to address the drivers who pose a potential risk.”
AAA spokesperson Nancy Cain said, "It's not an easy conversation for young people to talk to their parents about when it's time to stop driving, however, it's an important conversation that needs to be made.”
Even though every driver offers varying skill sets, and all drivers age differently, the National Institute on Aging offers meaningful tips on whether driving rights should be relinquished.
- Has the driver experienced several accidents over a short period?
- Does the driver get distracted easily?
- Have family, friends or doctor indicated they are concerned about driving?
- Does the driver have trouble staying in the proper lane?
- Have police officers pulled the driver over for careless driving?
The CDC Injury Prevention and Control division offers several tips for older adults to stay safe on the road:
- Have doctor and pharmacist review medications
- Have eyes checked
- Drive during daylight hours and in good weather
- Travel safe routes that have well-lit streets and intersections
- Plan route accordingly
- Avoid cell phone and radio distractions
- Exercise often to maintain strength and flexibility