InTrans / Oct 31, 2014

Aging population and aging drivers: When is the limit?

Go! Magazine

Car interiorposted on October 31, 2014

In this Driving with a Disability series, we are focusing on barriers to safe driving. At what point, should a person should give up their car keys and focus on other ways of maintaining mobility?

In our society today, mobility is one of the biggest ways in which we feel independent. Specifically, for many people, driving has become central to mobility independence.

Importance of safety

“In 2012, there were 5,560 people 65 and older killed and 214,000 injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes. These older people made up 17 percent of all traffic fatalities and 9 percent of all people injured in traffic crashes during the year. Compared to 2011, fatalities among people 65 and older and injured people in this age group increased by 16 percent” – National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

Today, nearly 34 million drivers are 65 and older. The potential problem is if and an older driver get into a vehicular accident, they are more prone to serious injury and less likely to recover as compared to a younger driver.

Confronting a loved one

Talking with an older individual about driving can become a bit uncomfortable. As mentioned before, driving can be intertwined with a person’s sense of mobility and independence. However, when safety is at risk for both the driver and others on the road, a conversation about reducing or eliminating personal car travel can become vital.

When does driving become unsafe?

There is no exact age in which driving becomes unsafe. There are a few signs, however, that could indicate driving is no longer a safe option. As people age, certain factors like decreased vision, impaired hearing, or slowed motor reflexes may become a problem. Further, they may experience the following issues.

  • Stiffness of the neck (making it difficult to look over your shoulder when driving)
  • Leg pain (making it difficult to switch from the gas to the break quickly)
  • Reduced arm strength (making turning the steering wheel more difficult)
  • Slower reaction time
  • Keeping track of all road sign meanings

These issues do not encompass all of the issues many older individuals may face. They do help, though, in determining a few warning signs of decreased driving ability.

Reduce or eliminate?

Some older drivers may need to either reduce, change, or eliminate driving altogether. Older individuals could find ways to drive less often. For example, they could take public transportation or even carpool.

A senior driver
A senior driver. Photo from VerticalResponse.

Another option is to change driving patterns. This may mean no more driving at night, drive short distances on less busy roads, or drive a route that involves less left turns and more traffic lights for added safety. The last option is to eliminate driving altogether. This option should focus on other options for the individual to maintain mobility. For example, they could enlist help from friends and family or utilize public transportation networks. Even though this option is the most severe, it helps maximize individual and community safety by keeping an unsafe driver off the road.

Next steps

The NHTSA has enacted a requirement that all states be more uniform in checking the safety of older drivers. Each state is now being called on to address driver licensing and medical review of at-risk drivers, medical and law enforcement, and other programs that will seek to reduce traffic crashes, fatalities and injuries on the road. An example of this type of preventative action includes Iowa’s requirement that drivers over 70 renew their license every two years instead of five. States around the country are being called on to take proactive steps to reduce vehicular crashes involving older drivers.

Other considerations

In many cases, an older individual may not be able to drive because of a preexisting medical conditions. As we age, chances of medical issues increase greatly. Not only must current driving behavior be considered, but also an individual’s existing medical issues. Also, when you take away someone’s ability to drive, another form of transportation must be considered. For example, having improved access to public transportation or carpooling options are important considerations.

Related links

By Jackie Nester, Go! Staff Writer

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