When’s the time to put the brakes on driving?
In 2020, Federal Highway Administration data showed that some 31 million licensed drivers 70 and older (9.4% of total US population) were still on the road. But should they be?
Even though over-70 drivers are traveling more miles than before, they’re involved in fewer police-reported crashes per capita than middle-agers. But the collisions they get involved in are more likely angle crashes, overtaking or merging crashes, and especially intersection crashes. Drivers 80 years and older were involved in almost twice as many multiple-vehicle crashes at intersections (39%) as drivers aged 16-59 (21%).
In accidents, senior drivers are cited for failing to yield the right-of-way more often than even teenage drivers. And a nationally representative study showed that senior drivers’ most frequent error at the wheel was failure to look at or see their surroundings, and misjudging gaps between vehicles or another car’s speed.
But what applies to all older drivers doesn’t apply to each driver. Different drivers have different physical conditions, each of which can affect driving ability in different ways:
More than three-quarters of elder drivers take prescription meds, but only half know for sure how their medications affect driving.
Eight out of ten people over 70 have arthritis, coupled with joint inflammation. This makes it hard for drivers to turn their heads far enough to fully check their surroundings.
· Arthritis, coupled with muscle tissue loss, can make it harder to grip and turn the steering wheel.
· That same muscle weakness can make it harder to press the brakes or accelerator when needed to avoid an accident.
· Changing vision and out-of-date eyeglass prescriptions can combine to make road signs, traffic signals and road conditions hard to read.
Aging affects motor skills, alertness, vision, and reflexes. But it doesn’t affect everyone in the same way, to the same extent, or at the same age. While some folks had to turn in their licenses in their early 70s, others are still driving well into their 90s.
Here are some things you can do to make your driving years safer and longer:
Leave more space between you and the car in front of you. The extra distance can make up for slower reaction time if you have to slam on the brakes.
When you need to stop, start braking earlier.
Whenever you can, avoid heavy traffic areas and rush hour diving.
Make sure you have no distractions – no radio, no music, no phone calls, no conversation - when you’re at the wheel.
See your doctor if pain, stiffness, or arthritis gets in the way of your driving.
· Drive a car with automatic transmission, power steering and brakes, and large mirrors.
Spend a bit more for a newer-model car with lane control, backup and right-turn video assist, and radar-controlled emergency braking options.
Be physically active or exercise to keep and increase your strength and flexibility.
If you have leg problems, look into retrofitting hand controls.
Get an eye exam every year. Medicare Advantage Plans usually cover them with no co-payment.
Make sure your prescription glasses or contact lenses are up to date. Again, many Advantage Plans cover a certain dollar value of glasses every year or two.
Virtually everyone over 65 has cataracts, which can interfere with night driving. Have your annual eye exam check for them. Medicare also covers cataract removal.
Have your hearing checked at least every three years. Advantage Plans generally cover those exams with no co-pay.
Read medicine labels carefully, looking for warnings about driving.
Make a list of all your meds, and ask your doctor or pharmacist how each affects your driving.
Don’t drive if you feel lightheaded or drowsy.
Instead of left turns at intersections, try taking the next right and circling the block.
When in doubt, don’t go out to drive in slippery weather conditions.
It’s not just driving where all seniors are uniquely different. Each has his or her own set of values, priorities, definitions of independence, and health conditions to live with. That’s why senior care management at Senior Insights is never a one-size-fits-all proposition.
Before we recommend any kind of care, we conduct a thorough three-part assessment of a client’s physical, emotional, cognitive, and psychosocial care needs. It’s the first step in designing a holistic senior care management plan geared to your specific needs, values, preferences, and desire for independence – with no pigeonholing or stereotyping whatever. Please contact us to find out what a difference that can make down the road of life.