It’s no secret that our reflexes and physical abilities start to decline as we age. In addition, many seniors face a decline in hearing, vision, or cognitive function due to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. All of this can negatively impact their ability to drive a motor vehicle.
According to the CDC, around 20 people aged 65 or above die in crashes daily, with almost 540 end up being injured. This data can be concerning for older adults who still want to drive. However, that does not mean they have to give up driving altogether. With a few precautions, staying safe on the road is possible.
If you’re a senior citizen who still likes to get behind the wheel, follow these eight safe driving tips to help keep yourself and others safe on the road.
Driving Restrictions for Seniors
As we age, our reflexes slow down, and our vision and hearing may not be as sharp as they once were. As a result, seniors are at greater risk of being involved in car accidents than younger drivers. Though most states impose the same rules for older drivers as they do for the younger ones, however, to keep seniors safe on the road, some states have implemented age-specific laws for senior drivers.
For example, some states require seniors to renew their driver’s licenses more frequently or to take a vision or road test before renewing. In addition, many states have laws prohibiting seniors from driving during certain hours or in areas with high traffic levels. By imposing these restrictions, states hope to keep seniors safe while still allowing them the independence that comes with being able to drive.
However, the aging process varies from person to person, and so does the ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. Recent studies indicate that older adults are less likely to be involved in deadly car accidents, drink and drive, or disobey traffic rules than younger ones. AARP also condemns the frequent testing of senior drivers based on age.
5 Most Common Risk Factors That Can Affect Driving for Older Adults
There are several risk factors that can affect an older adult’s ability to drive safely. If you are an older adult, it is essential to be aware of these five common risk factors and take steps to mitigate them.
1. Diminished Vision and Hearing
Aging often causes a decline in vision and hearing, impacting driving as these are two vital senses when behind the wheel. Diminished vision can lead to impaired judgment when merging or changing lanes while hearing loss can make it difficult to listen to horns, sirens, or other warning signals.
2. Joint Pain and Decreased Mobility
Joint pain and decreased mobility due to arthritis or other underlying health issues are common in the elderly, making it difficult to control a car. Joint pain can cause stiffness and reduced range of motion, making it hard to turn the steering wheel or brake quickly. Decreased mobility can also lead to slower reaction times and difficulty getting into and out of a car. These factors can increase the chances of an accident.
3. Slower Reflexes
Aging can affect reflexes, making them slower. It can be due to muscle stiffness, joint pain, certain brain diseases, etc. Slowed reflexes can lead to accidents, mainly when reacting to sudden events. According to a recent study, older drivers showed delayed Driving Reaction Time (DRT) compared to the younger group.
4. Medication Side-effects
Medication side effects are another significant risk factor affecting driving for older adults. Many seniors take multiple medications to regulate blood pressure, diabetes, UTIs, and other health problems. Unfortunately, the interactions between these medications can lead to various side effects, such as dizziness, confusion, blurred vision, and fatigue. These can seriously impair a senior’s ability to drive safely.
5. Cognitive Decline
Aging is one of the most common risk factors for cognitive decline, which is also one of the main reasons seniors lose their driving privileges. Cognitive decline can lead to difficulty with tasks such as remembering familiar routes, focusing on multiple tasks, decreased vision, and hearing, or understanding complex information. All these limitations can further increase their risk of accidents.
Top 5 Common Mistakes Made by Seniors While Driving
It is very easy to make mistakes while driving as we get older if you don’t stay alert. For this reason, seniors need to take extra precautions while driving. Unfortunately, many seniors still make the same mistakes while behind the wheel. Here are the five most common mistakes made by seniors while driving:
1. Not using a turning signal when changing lanes
Turn signals are an important part of driving, and it’s crucial to use them when making turns or changing lanes. Failure to do so can result in accidents or unwanted attention from law enforcement.
2. Driving too fast or too slow for the conditions
Driving too fast can be dangerous while driving too slowly can cause traffic jams. So it’s crucial to find a middle ground and drive at a speed that’s comfortable for you and allows you to react safely to sudden changes in the road.
3. Making sudden turns
Many seniors make the mistake of making sudden turns while driving. These abrupt turns can be hazardous, as they can lead you to lose control of your car. Instead, try to make gradual turns so that you can keep your vehicle under control.
4. Not using the parking brake
Another common mistake seniors make while driving is not using the parking brake. It can lead to the car rolling away and crashing into something. Make sure to use the parking brake every time you park your car to avoid this mistake.
5. Yielding to oncoming traffic instead of waiting for an opening
Sometimes, seniors may mistakenly think they need to yield to oncoming traffic even if there is an opening for them to go through. This can be a dangerous mistake. If there is a significant gap in oncoming traffic, it is best to wait until it is safe to cross.
Top Eight Safe Driving Tips for Seniors
Just because a few shortcomings come with aging does not mean older adults cannot go on with regular tasks, including driving. With a bit of extra caution and some helpful tips, the elderly can continue to enjoy safe driving well into their golden years. Here are the top eight safe driving tips for seniors:
1. Keep your seatbelt on at all times
Seatbelts are important for all drivers, but especially for seniors. It is one of the simplest and most effective ways to stay safe while driving. They keep you safe in the event of a collision and can also prevent us from being thrown out of the car. So, even if you are traveling a short distance, be sure to buckle up to avoid serious injuries.
2. Take frequent breaks during long drives
Driving can be tiring, especially for those not used to being on the road for extended periods. Taking breaks allow drivers to stretch their legs, get some fresh air, and refresh themselves before continuing their journey. When you’ve stopped, take the time to move your body, get some fresh air, and drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. If you can’t pull off the road, roll down your window and take a few deep breaths.
3. Keep your car in good condition
Ensure the brakes are working correctly, the tires are inflated to the proper pressure, and all the lights and signals are functioning correctly. Older drivers can benefit from good car maintenance in a few ways: first, a well-tuned car is more fuel efficient. Secondly, properly inflated tires grip the road better and make it easier to control the car. Finally, keeping all the lights and electrical equipment in good working order helps you see and be seen better while driving, which can be especially important at night or in low-light conditions.
4. Don’t drive in adverse weather
Seniors should avoid driving in bad weather conditions, as poor visibility, limited traction, and slippery roads can make it difficult to control your vehicle. Also, older drivers may not have the necessary skills or reflexes to navigate these conditions safely. For these reasons, seniors should avoid driving in adverse weather conditions whenever possible.
5. Have your driving skills checked regularly
Regularly checking your driving skills is important for any age group but especially for seniors. As aging can cause changes in our vision, hearing, and reflexes, by getting your driving skills checked regularly, you can identify any issues that need to be addressed and take steps to stay safe on the road.
6. Avoid distractions while driving
One of the most important things to remember when driving is to avoid distractions. That means keeping your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel, and your mind on your driving. Unfortunately, many things can distract drivers, from talking on the phone to eating or drinking or adjusting the radio volume. It can take your focus off the road for a few seconds, which can be long enough to cause an accident.
7. Do routine eye and hearing exams
All drivers should take steps to ensure they are driving safely, regardless of their age. But those with diminished vision and hearing should take extra precautions. Make sure to keep up with routine eye and hearing exams, so any changes in sight or hearing can be detected and addressed as soon as possible. You may also consider investing in assistive devices if necessary.
8. Consult your doctor regarding medication side-effects
Anyone taking medication should be aware of the potential side effects and talk to their doctor about how the medication might impact their ability to drive safely. Be honest about all the medicines you’re taking and share any discomfort associated with it. It will help your doctor determine whether the medications are safe for driving and make necessary adjustments.
Finding the Right Vehicle for Seniors for Safe Driving
When looking for a vehicle for seniors, it is essential to find one that is safe and fits the driver’s needs. A smaller car may be a better option for seniors than a large SUV. Cars with good visibility and large mirrors are also ideal. Features like power brakes, power steering, and automatic transmission can make driving easier for those who may have difficulty with manual tasks. A car with an anti-theft system can provide added security.
How to Convince My Elderly Parents for Safe Driving?
The best way to convince elderly parents to drive safely will vary depending on their situation and personality. However, here are a few general tips that may help:
- Start by talking to your parents about their safety while driving. Explain why you think they must drive safely, and listen to their concerns and arguments against driving safely.
- Next, try to find some statistics or evidence that supports your argument. For example, if you think their reaction time has slowed, you could find a study showing the increased risk of accidents for drivers over a certain age.
- Offer solutions to help make driving safer for your parents. That might include suggesting they take breaks more often, drive during daylight hours, or avoid highways and busy intersections.
- Finally, be patient and understanding, as your parents may behave irrationally or resist change at first. Try not to push them too hard, but continue to talk about the issue and offer support until they’re ready to change.
- Poor vision, slower reflexes, medication side effects, decreased mobility, and cognitive decline are some of the common risk factors for older drivers.
- It is essential to do regular health check-ups, invest in car maintenance, avoid distractions while driving, avoid driving in adverse weather, and modify medications causing side effects to minimize driving hazards.
- Talking to your senior loved ones about the importance of taking precautions while driving and helping them with the necessary tools to remain safe behind wheels.
Older adults are some of the safest drivers on the road. However, with age, various health complications may threaten our safety behind the wheel. From staying off the streets during inclement weather to good maintenance to investing in regular eye and hearing exams, these small changes can make a big difference when it comes to safety on the road.
Consider taking these top eight safe driving tips for seniors to heart to ensure your loved one stays accident-free. Do you have any other tips that have worked well for you? Please share them with us in the comments below! Also, check out these related articles from our blog:
- How Can Age Affect Driving Ability?
Age can affect driving ability in a number of ways. One is that it can lead to slower reflexes and judgment. It can also lead to decreased vision and hearing, which can make it difficult to react to sudden changes on the road. Additionally, as we get older, we are more likely to experience health conditions that can impact our ability to drive safely. For all of these reasons, it is essential for older drivers to be aware of the potential risks associated with driving and to take steps to stay safe on the road.
- What to Do if You Believe an Older Person Should No Longer Drive?
If you believe an older person should no longer drive, you can try to talk to them about it. You could explain your concerns and let them know that you think it would be best if they stopped driving. If they are still resistant, you may need to take more drastic measures, such as contacting the police, their doctor, or adult children.
- Why Do Old People Drive So Slowly?
One reason that old people drive slowly may be that they are afraid of getting into an accident. They may also have slower reflexes and poorer vision than younger drivers, which could make it more difficult for them to react quickly in a dangerous situation.
- What’s the Most Serious and Maybe the Most Common Mistake Made When Driving?
One of the most common and serious mistakes made when driving is not paying attention to the road. It is easy to get distracted while driving, which can lead to accidents and fatalities.
- What is the Most Important and Safest Thing a Driver Can Do before Driving Away?
The most important and safest thing a driver can do before driving away is to check the mirrors and ensure that there is nothing in the way. Also, make sure the car is parked.
- Can You Still Drive At 80?
Yes, you can still drive at 80 as long as you are in good health condition and take the necessary precautions. Make sure to keep your eyes open and be aware of your surroundings. If you start to feel tired, pull over and take a break.