Safety for Elderly Drivers

It can be extremely difficult to candidly approach the subject of safety with an elderly driver. Being able to drive offers a person independence and mobility, a feeling that many seniors are already losing physically. Because of this, many families turn a blind eye to their loved one’s poor driving habits. Family caregivers do not one to rob their loved one of the freedom that driving permits. This is often true even if they are potentially a source of danger to themselves and others. Continue reading to learn our elderly driving safety tips.

That little plastic license represents so much to us: independence, mobility, freedom. This is exactly why the subject of driving is so difficult for many adult children to approach. Nobody wants to sacrifice their parents’ autonomy. But there are factors that come into play when a person reaches the age of 75 that make it difficult for them to drive. Today we will be looking at a few of those.

Facts About Elderly Drivers

  • As of 2016, over 1 in 7 licensed drivers in the United States were seniors.
  • In 2015, more than 6,800 older adults were killed in motor vehicle crashes.
  • In 2015, there was an average of 19 elderly drivers killed and 712 injured in crashes every day.
  • 18% of traffic fatalities in the U.S. were among people over the age of 65.
  • 40% of family caregivers would rather discuss funeral arrangements than discuss driving with their parents.
  • 28% of deaths in crashes with elderly drivers at fault were occupants of other vehicles or pedestrians

When Are Elderly Drivers At Risk of Causing Accidents?

There is a stigma that all older people are bad drivers. However, there are people in their 90s who are still perfectly capable on the road. It is important to note, however, that certain predictive factors can indicate an elderly driver should use more caution when driving.

Sex:

Elderly drivers who were male had an 87.73% higher risk of being involved in a fatal crash than women.

Age:

Age had a very significant impact on the likelihood of a person getting into a crash. As can be seen in the chart below fatality rates in car crashes are directly correlated with age.

This correlation has less to do with older people being ‘bad drivers’ as it does with the fact that physical impairments are more prevalent in older populations.

Things like arthritis and diabetes can limit physical function and make it difficult to grip the steering wheel, press the pedals, and other functions of driving a car.        

Medical issues that can impair driving:

Arthritis:

As a person ages their joints can become stiff and muscles can atrophy. This can obviously impact a person’s ability to drive making things like turning the steering wheel, rotating the head to view the mirrors, and pressing the brake pedal very difficult.

Impaired Vision:

Eyesight can become limited as we age with things like macular degeneration and catalysts. The difficult thing about these vision impairments is that they are subtle and progressive. Vision loss will typically begin in the peripheral vision and progress from there. This subtle vision loss can make it difficult for an older person to realize that they have vision difficulty and can increase their likelihood of getting into an accident or fender bender.

Impaired Hearing:

Many older people experience hearing difficulty. This can make it difficult for that person to hear other car horns, approaching hazards, and even noises coming from their car. Older people might not be able to notice warning sounds as easily and therefore are at a greater risk of falling victim to a crash.

Dementia:

While some people in the early stages of dementia are still capable of driving, it is important that the affected person and their family are attentive to changes in behavior. In fact according to Geriatric Psychiatrist, Robert Slayton, M.D. one of the very first symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease is the visual spatial disorientation. Visual spatial disorientation is the inability to follow a map or recall direction. Therefore, so many people with Alzheimer’s Disease have a tendency to get lost even in familiar places. This visual spatial disorientation while driving can make even an early stage Alzheimer’s patient confused and panic stricken as they struggle to make sense of a route they formerly knew very well. 

What Can I Do to Keep My Loved One Safe?

 

1. Enforce That They Wear a Seat Belt

According to the CDC nearly 30% of elderly drivers do not wear a seat belt when they are driving. Simply wearing a seat belt can reduce the risk of death by 45% when a senior is in an accident. If your loved one is in the habit of not wearing a seat belt, keep them safe by enforcing that they always wear one.

2. Only Allow them to Drive in Safe Conditions

Because hearing, seeing, and mobility impairments are common among elderly drivers it can be difficult for them to drive in inclement weather conditions. If it is dark out and your loved one needs to travel on a dimly lit road, it will likely be much more difficult for them to discern hazards. Similarly, if it is raining or snowing your loved one might not be able to utilize their car’s controls as easily as a person who is fully mobile.

3. Be Cautious with New Medication

Seniors can respond negatively to new medications. They can become drowsy or have their senses impaired. Because of this, if your loved one has been prescribed new medication within the past month they should be very cautious when driving. Try to have someone supervise your loved one’s driving if they are on a new medication for safety.

4. Enroll them in a Defensive Driving Class

There are many classes available for elderly drivers. These classes can help a person with a limitation, such as arthritis or low night time visibility learn how to drive safely. Additionally, these classes can serve as a litmus test for you to see if your loved one is truly safe to be on the road alone.

5. Have the Strength to Admit when Driving is No Longer an Option

There are certain limitations that can hinder a person to the point where they can no longer drive. Still there are many seniors who continue to drive because their family do not intervene. If your loved one is showing signs of dementia you should immediately suspend their ability to drive. Additionally if they have significant visual impairment you should have a discussion with them about safer transportation alternatives.