Senior Citizen Driver Safety
As we age, it's normal for our driving abilities to change. By reducing risk factors and incorporating safe driving practices, many of us can continue driving safely long into our senior years. But we do have to pay attention to any warning signs that age is interfering with our driving safety and make appropriate adjustments. Even if you find that you need to reduce your driving or give up the keys, it doesn't mean the end of your independence. Seeking alternative methods of transportation can offer health and social benefits, as well as a welcome change of pace to life.
AARP Driver Safety Classes
This course is the nation’s first refresher course specifically designed for drivers age 50 and older, revising your driving skills and knowledge of the rules of the road.
|Agency||Services Provided||Eligibility||Contact Information|
||Medical related appointments only||Medical Appointment Only||419.696.7404|
|Comfort Keepers||Medical and incidental transportation||Wood and Lucas County||419.874.4880|
|Home Instead Senior Care||Medical transportation||Wood County||419.352.6563|
|Life Star||Wheelchair and stretcher||Clients Only||419.245.6220|
|Lloyds Lifts||Limited transportation||Medical appointments only to cancer treatment||419.409.1000|
|Reliable Taxi||Curb to curb service||Available to everyone||419.352.8294|
|Ride Right Perrysburg Transit||Available to everyone||419.872.8430|
|Black and White Cab||Taxi service, 24/7, ADA accessible||419.536.8294|
|Para Transit Service||Taxi service||855.881.6758|
|BG Airport Shuttle||Curb to curb, no wheelchair||Call||419.308.5952|
|BGSU Shuttle Service||Set route, ADA accessible||Bowling Green community member||419.372.0236|
|B.G. Transit||Public transportation||1.800.579.4299|
|Tarta||Para transit service||419.243.7433|
|The Veterans Administration||Medical transport||Wood County Veterans Only||419.259.2000|
|TLC Transportation||Door to door service||Medicaid eligible||419.476.9350|
|Wood County Committee on Aging||Medical appointments||Wood County residents ages 60+||1.800.367.4935|
|Wood County Department of Jobs and Family Services||Medial/Dental and RX pickup||Income/Medicaid eligible||1.888.282.1118|
|Right at Home Seniors on the Move
|Available 24/7||Must be able to get out of van with minimal assistance||567.336.6062|
|Seneca County Agency Transportation||Curb to curb||1.8000.722.8852|
|Share A Ride||24 hour notice||Available to everyone||419.241.1919 ext. 132|
|Super Cab||Door to door||Available to everyone||419.494.3380|
|St. Luke's Hospital Courtesy Van||24 hour notice||Scheduled testing or treatment at ProMedica St. Luke's Hospital||419.893.5990|
Everyone ages differently, so there is no arbitrary cutoff as to when someone should stop driving. However, older adults are more likely to receive traffic citations and get into accidents than younger drivers. In fact, fatal crash rates rise sharply after a driver has reached the age of 70. What causes this increase? As we age, factors such as decreased vision, impaired hearing, or slowed motor reflexes may become a problem.
Take charge of your health
Regular check-ups are critical to keep you in the best possible driving shape. Other steps you can take include:
- Get your eyes checked every year. Make sure that corrective lenses are current. Keep the windshield, mirrors, and headlights clean, and turn brightness up on the instrument panel on your dashboard.
- Have your hearing checked annually. If hearing aids are prescribed, make sure they are worn while driving. Be careful when opening car windows, though, as drafts can sometimes impair a hearing aid's effectiveness.
- Talk with a doctor about the effects that ailments or medications may have on your driving ability. For example, if you have glaucoma, you may find tinted eyeglass lenses useful in reducing glare.
- Sleep well. Getting enough sleep is essential to driving well. If there are problems, try to improve nighttime sleep conditions and talk with your doctor about the effect of any sleep medications on driving.
Find the right car
Choose a vehicle with automatic transmission, power steering, and power brakes. Keep your car in good working condition by visiting your mechanic for scheduled maintenance. Be sure that windows and headlights are always clean. An occupational therapist or a certified driving rehabilitation specialist, for example, can prescribe equipment to make it easier to steer the car and to operate the foot pedals. Check out Smart Features to help find the right vehicle that fits your needs.
In these days of cell phones, GPS devices, and digital music players, drivers are even more distracted than they used to be. This means you’ll want to take extra steps to drive safely, like leaving adequate space for the car in front of you, paying extra attention at intersections, and making sure you are driving appropriate to the flow of traffic. Avoid distractions such as talking on the phone while driving or trying to puzzle out a map, even if it’s a GPS on the car; pull over instead.
Make sure you allow sufficient braking distance. Remember, if you double your speed—say from 30mph to 60mph—your braking distance does not become twice as long, it becomes four times as far, even more if the road is wet or icy.
Know your limitations
If a driving situation makes you uncomfortable, don’t do it. Many older drivers voluntarily begin to make changes in their driving practices. If fast-moving traffic bothers you, consider staying off freeways, highways, and find street routes instead. You may also decide to avoid driving in bad weather. If you are going to a place that is unfamiliar to you, it is a good idea to plan your route before you leave so that you feel more confident and avoid getting lost.
Listen to the concerns of others
If relatives, friends, or others begin to talk to you about your driving, it may be time to take a hard, honest look at your driving ability. You might choose to brush up on your driving through a refresher course. AARP Driver Safety Classes offers the first refresher course specifically for drivers 50 and older.
Talk to your doctor. Your doctor should also be able to provide an opinion about your ability to drive safely, or refer you to a specialist for more intensive evaluation.
Know the warning signs
Sometimes unsafe signs can come up gradually, or a recent change in health may make problems worse. If you are concerned about your own driving, keep an eye out for these warning signs:
- Conflicting medications. Certain medications or combinations of medications can affect senses and reflexes. Always check the label on medications and double check with your healthcare team if you are taking several medications or notice a difference after starting a new medication.
- Eyesight or hearing problems. Some eye conditions or medications can interfere with your ability to focus your peripheral vision, or cause you to experience extra sensitivity to light, trouble seeing in the dark, or blurred vision.
- Problems with reflexes and range of motion. Can you react quickly enough if you need to brake suddenly or quickly look back? Have you confused the gas and brake pedals? Do you find yourself getting more flustered while driving, or quick to anger? Is it comfortable to look back over your shoulder, or does it take extra effort?
- Close calls and increased citations. Red flags include frequent "close calls", dents and scrapes on the car or on fences, mailboxes, garage doors, and curbs. Increased traffic tickets or "warnings" by traffic or law enforcement officers are also red flags.
Other Safe Driving Tips
Seniors should avoid driving during times of high sun glare. The sun’s glare can be so blinding that it can cause existing vision problems to multiply. The sun’s glare is the brightest at specific times in the morning and the evening. The first 45 minutes after the sun rises are the most dangerous periods for sun glare. The glare returns in the evening about an hour to 45 minutes before the sun goes down for good. Seniors should wear shades if they must drive during these times.
A senior driver should avoid nighttime driving because it requires the most vision processing. A senior driver can plan to take grocery store runs and other errand drives before the sun sets in the evening. Limiting the driving to night fall can ensure that a driver has a maximum amount of illumination.
A driver should always stay a safe distance away from a vehicle’s steering wheel. The driver’s chest should be at least 10 inches back from the steering wheel. The reason for the distance is safety. A senior can suffer severe damages if an accident occurs while that person’s chest is close to the steering wheel. The senior may suffer from a crushed chest or a severe injury from an airbag that releases too closely to the face.
A senior citizen should use prescribed medical devices such as hearing aids and eyeglasses to enhance their driving experience. Some people do not like to wear their glasses or hearing aids for cosmetic reasons, but such is wrong. A driver should not leave the home and drive at any time without those devices. A hearing aid could be the device that saves someone from an accident because of a honking horn.
All drivers should wear their seatbelts at all times, but seniors should take special care of themselves. Without a seat belt on, a senior can suffer fatal damages from a mild automobile accident.
Keeping the windows clean is a good way to ensure that vision is as clear as possible. A bottle of Windex and a rag can go a long way when it comes to driver safety. The vehicle will most likely have a window cleaning spray in its reservoir, as well.
Inclement weather increases the likelihood of an accident for anyone who is driving. A senior citizen may want to stay in the home during times of heavy rain, snowfall, hail and the like. The senior should not take any trips that are unnecessary during such times.
Poor posture is a common cause of automobile accidents. A driver can miss a necessary reaction if he or she maintains poor driving posture. The best way that a senior citizen can stay safe is by straightening the back and keeping the eyes above the steering wheel at least three inches.
Another tip for safe driving is to adjust the rear view mirrors. Many drivers forget that they need to adjust the two mirrors outside the door. The side view mirrors are important because they determine the amount of blind spot that the driver has to endure. The blind spot is the area that can end up causing an accident if the driver cannot see it. Blind spot accidents mostly occur when people try to change lanes without good clearance. Adjusting the side view mirrors can help a senior citizen to protect himself or herself from an unnecessary vehicle collision. The driver will want to reach out and turn the mirrors to the left and the right until he or she can see a vehicle in the background.
Certain times of the day are generally more dangerous for everyone, not just senior citizens. An elderly driver will want to avoid the morning and night time rush hour times. The morning rush hour period lasts between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. the evening rush hour period lasts between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Weekend travel is always heavy during Saturday nights and Sunday morning. A driving senior will want to avoid driving during those times to increase safety and security.
Distracting activities are activities that take the focus off the road. They include activities such as text messaging, talking on a cell phone, applying makeup, watching television, looking at the GPS, and talking to someone in the car. Some accidents do occur because drivers turn their heads toward the back to talk to passengers. A young person can have an accident in less than five seconds because of a distracting activity. An elderly person’s time frame is shorter than that. The inside of the vehicle should be completely silent so that the driver can focus on the road in front of him or her.
An elderly driver should ensure that he or she stays the appropriate stopping distance behind vehicles. The usual safe stopping distance is approximately two car lengths. A senior driver may want to give other drivers a little more room. Three car lengths is an excellent stopping distance for an older driver. The driver may want to add an additional car length during rainfall.
The highways are some of the busiest and scariest roads of them all. An elderly person will want to try to avoid getting on the highways, especially during rush hour. The person should choose an alternative route if it is at all possible. Residential roads and alternative routes are best because the driver will not have to share the road with too many other drivers.
As the Baby Boomer generation ages, more elderly drivers are out on America’s roadways. Senior citizens (people over age 65) can be very good drivers, but as their vision, hearing and motor skills worsen, the incidence of motor vehicle accidents increases. In 2012, there were 5,560 people 65 and older killed and 214,000 injured in motor vehicle crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. These elderly individuals comprised 17 percent of all traffic deaths and 9 percent of traffic injuries in 2012.
There are several ways to prevent crashes involving older drivers. One way is to adapt motor vehicles for the needs of senior drivers. As technology advances, it becomes more practical for seniors to drive safely and remain independent. Some age related driving difficulties are easily remedied – such as a swiveling driver seat. Others, such as hand controls for physically handicapped drivers take some training, but can be highly effective. Some of these costs can be covered by insurance or by nonprofit organizations. Evaluating individual driver needs and working with professionals to choose appropriate adaptation devices can enable elderly drivers to maintain their driving freedom without endangering themselves or others on the road.
It is also sometimes necessary to understand and influence older drivers, whether they be family members, friends, or neighbors. Sometimes this could just be checking in to make sure that the older person is properly maintaining their vehicle so that it runs with optimum performance. If you are approaching senior status, or have elderly family members, try to be as objective as possible and gather information. In many cases, having an honest conversation with a medical professional can help a family or elderly driver decide their future driving plans. Having conversations with an older driver may be awkward for you or embarrassing for them, but it is imperative to ensure the safety of all people sharing the road.
Remember, a person’s driving performance is what determines their fitness to drive. Although age can be a good reason to begin watching for signs of dangerous driving, it is not a firm or foolproof indicator. An 80-year-old driver may perform much better than a 23-year-old driver. Safety should be the number one priority of all drivers, so it is best to work with the elderly driver, his or her family, and possibly medical professionals to determine the best steps for his or her future.
When should a senior citizen stop driving?
Because of the number of accidents that involve seniors on the road, some states are trying to implement regulations that would revoke driving privileges from senior citizens or at least require them to take special tests after they reach a certain age. Senior rights organizations argue that such regulations are discriminatory. States that already have such regulations in place are Florida, Georgia and Illinois. Those three states require their older citizens to take eye exams after they reach a certain age. Illinois senior drivers who are older than 87 years old must renew their licenses every year. Certain signs and signals indicate to a senior or elderly driver that the time to stop driving may have approached.
Common signs that a senior should stop driving are:
- Missing traffic signs
- Easy distractions
- Multiple traffic violation tickets
- Upsetting other drivers frequently
- Slow response
- Getting lost during travels
- Multiple close calls
- Hesitation or reluctance to drive
Talking with a loved one about their driving concerns
Driver safety can often be a sensitive issue for older drivers. A driver’s license signifies more than the ability to drive a car; it is a symbol of freedom and self-sufficiency. Understandably, driving is not a privilege that anyone wants to relinquish willingly. Still, safety must come first.
Some older drivers may be aware of their faltering ability but still be reluctant to give up driving completely. Another person’s concerns may force the senior driver to act. They may even feel relieved to have someone else help make the decision to stop driving. Some seniors may forget that they aren’t supposed to drive. If that is the case, it is even more important to remove the car or the keys to make it impossible to drive. If you find yourself in the position of talking to an older friend or family member about their driving, remember the following:
- Be respectful. For many seniors, driving is an integral part of independence. Many older adults have fond memories of getting a driver’s license. At the same time, don’t be intimidated or back down if you have a true concern.
- Give specific examples. It’s easier to tune out generalizations like “You just can’t drive safely anymore.” Outline concerns that you have noticed, such as “You have a harder time turning your head than you used to,” or “You braked suddenly at stop signs three times the last time we drove.”
- Find strength in numbers. If more than one family member or close friend has noticed, it’s less likely to be taken as nagging. A loved one may also listen to a more impartial party, such as a doctor or driving specialist.
- Help find alternatives. The person may be so used to driving that they have never considered alternatives. You can offer concrete help, such as researching transportation options or offering rides when possible. If your family member is reluctant to ask for help, it can lead to isolation and depression.
- Understand the difficulty of the transition. Your loved one may experience a profound sense of loss having given up driving. Don’t dismiss their feelings but try to help with the transition as much as possible. If it is safe, try slowly transitioning the senior out of driving to give them time to adjust.
When an older driver refuses to give up the keys
Sometimes an older driver has to be stopped from driving over their objections. It might feel very difficult for you to make this call, especially if the senior is a parent or other close figure used to having their independence. However, their safety and the safety of others must come first. An unsafe driver can seriously injure or kill themselves or others.
If appropriate evaluations and recommendations have been made, and no amount of rational discussion has convinced the driver to hand over the car keys, then you may make an anonymous report to your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles or talk to the person’s physician about your concerns. In some cases, there is a need to take further actions such as taking away the car keys, selling or disabling the car, and enlisting the local police to explain the importance of safe driving and the legal implications of unsafe driving.