What happens when the elderly in our care start losing their ability to drive? How do we know if they’re safe behind the wheel? Is there a right age to consider quitting driving? How can we deal with aging drivers within our family?
Senior drivers and road safety
While drivers above the age of 60 (that is, from 60 all the way to 99 years old) account for about 25% of the population, they represent less than 20% of serious injuries. This age group is much less likely to cause accidents than the 18-24 years old segment.
This clearly shows that experience plays in their favour, and that the driving style of older drivers is generally safer, albeit slower. As expected, when people grow older, many tend to give up driving by themselves. Whenever they are involved in accidents nonetheless, the physical injuries are often more fatal than a similar accident to a younger person.
1. Never forget health
In general we all lose eyesight, hearing and reflexes with age. Whenever a driver (senior or not) needs to wear glasses to drive, a second pair of glasses is a must-have and can be kept in the glove compartment.
In most states, regular medical checks are required by law every five or ten years, but more frequent checks can help prevent a road accident due to bad eyesight for example.
2. Consider alternatives to driving
Most senior citizens want to quit driving of their own will at a certain point, but if they fear that their social life may be affected negatively, they may postpone this decision.
The more they can rely on cheap taxis, home deliveries for their groceries, and public transport, the more likely they will make the step. With close relatives, the possibility to have a personal chauffeur and to see that their family cares about them, the better.
Most importantly, visiting them in their home is a very strong sign that they do not need to get out to socialize.
3. Choose to drive less, little by little
Usually senior drivers exert caution and tend to respect speed limits. Having a car for small trips to the supermarket or to visit relatives close by is a great way to drive regularly.
Older drivers should avoid travelling on very hot days or when weather conditions affect visibility, e.g. when it’s raining. Driving in the rain is a challenge for every motorist regardless of age. However, with age it can be even more challenging as your reaction time drops significantly.
Also, with age, concentration and stress can make journeys above 3 hours dangerous. Highways are safer than smaller roads because there are no crossings, but driving at reduced speed is advisable.
For longer journeys, the best you can do is offer to drive. Make sure that the seniors feel safe as your passengers, but also comfortable. Small acts of contribution like letting them choose the music or stopping when they need to are important. Go a long way to make it acceptable and convenient for them to be a passenger.
4. Which car?
When choosing a car for seniors, speed and performance should come second to safety equipment such as airbags. Sedans probably offer the best compromise between stability and safety.
Regular car maintenance greatly helps and you may be in a position to take care of the visits to the auto shop if it is not their favorite activity.
The car they choose should ideally have seats that can be adjusted in height. Make sure that the electronic controls are well understood and if needed consider entry-level models with more basic controls.
Like young drivers, senior drivers may find it difficult to multitask. Common driver distractions such as mobile phones can be even more dangerous for them. Remind them that satellite navigation should always be handled while the car is parked and that the telephone ban applies to all drivers.
The problem of senior drivers is likely to be solved when autonomous cars become a common way to move around. Until then, however, these tips can help the senior drivers you know find the right balance when it comes to driving or take the decision to quit driving.