Are senior drivers really more dangerous?
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UPDATED: Jun 4, 2019
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Senior drivers may become more dangerous to themselves and others on the road if physical changes slow down their reaction times and other important driving abilities.
However, they are not (statistically speaking) the most dangerous drivers on the road. That distinction still goes to teenage drivers.
There is truth to the idea that senior drivers may be less able as they once were.
There are many issues that aging presents to driving ability but senior citizens can remain safe drivers and even keep their car insurance rates low in their golden years.
How does aging affect driving ability?
In order to be a safe driver a person need to anticipate and react quickly to situations that arise. This can be as simple as deciding if you have time to make a left hand turn with on-coming traffic; or as complex as figuring out how to avoid being hit by an oncoming car swerving towards you.
Both these situations are ones that cause drivers over 65 to be involved in accidents.
According to Smart Motorist, the risk of being involved in a car crash goes up significantly when a person hits 65. The risk of being in a fatality because of a car accident goes up at 75. Both are reported to be the result of aging related symptoms.
Some of the most common aging related symptoms that impact safe driving for seniors include vision decline, fatigue, loss of strength, slower reaction time, and the effects of medication.
While the specifics are different for everyone, most people do experience a loss in vision acuity as they age.
For this reason the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that senior drivers have their eyes checked annually.
CDC statistics also indicate that many older drivers cut back on driving at night, in poor weather, or for long distances due to vision issue.
Of course, this points to the wisdom of many elderly and senior drivers, and is probably why this population is not involved in as many accidents as younger teenaged drivers.
Therefore, to call the senior driving population dangerous is truly a gross stereotype.
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How does slower reaction time affect older drivers?
Reaction time tends to be slower in older drivers for reasons like physical weakness, fatigue, and medication side effects. Another issue is the vulnerability that aging may cause physically.
Slower reaction times may explain why, when a younger and older driver are both involved in a crash, the older driver is more likely to the one who gets hit. Weakened muscles also contribute to an inability to turn the wheel suddenly.
The fact is that, when older drivers are involved in serious car accidents they are more like to die. This fatality statistic is one of the things that contribute to the myth that senior drivers are the most dangerous people on the road.
Medication also contributes to many situations in which a driver over 65 is unable react quickly.
How can I keep driving safely after 65?
If you are wondering if it’s still safe for you or a loved one to be on the road, there are a few things to consider. Have that yearly vision test. If you don’t pass then it’s time to consider other options.
If your vision is still good and your reaction time fairly good, then you might consider making some adjustments to keep your driving time safe.
Here are some tips to help you stay safe:
Avoid distractions: Many senior drivers today have cell phones. However, digging out that phone while driving can cause you to lose your focus and swerve into the other lane. Either let it ring, or get a hands-free device.
Plan your route: Know where you are going or use a GPS device to avoid having to make sudden turns and swerves mid-route.
Allow space: Allow more space that you think you need between yourself and the car ahead of you. That way, if you do have to stop suddenly, you allow yourself time to react.
Take a driving class: Organizations like the AARP offer safe driving courses specifically for senior drivers. Not only will a class like this teach you skills to adapt to your physical changes, your car insurance company might give you a discount for taking it!
Classes are very affordable and can be found online or by calling the AARP.
When is it time to stop driving?
According to the AARP, there are several signs that you need to limit driving, or stop driving altogether. Perhaps the most obvious is if you are involved in more accidents, fender benders, or crashes than you used to be.
If you have received warnings or tickets in the last couple of years this could mean your driving ability is less than it used to be. Even close calls that leave you feeling shaken or angry are signs that the focus needed for driving might not be there anymore.
Problems reading traffic signs or seeing onramps is another indication that your vision is declining and causing driving issues.
On the other hand, getting lost more often that you used to may be a sign that you should consider getting off the road.
However, this is an emotional issue tied to mobility and freedom. It may be best to ask your physician or other uninvolved third party for their opinion.
Many senior citizens are able to continue driving safely. However, all will need to make some accommodations in driving habits to make this happen.