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What You Should Know about Senior Drivers

Posted in Car Accident on November 21, 2017

Drivers face the highest risk of being involved in accidents when they’re in their teens and early 20s. From that point forward, their risks decline until they become senior citizens. As drivers age, their risks increase due to a variety of physical and mental changes.

Seniors can still drive safely for many years, but it’s important that they and their loved ones are aware of the changes that can occur that can increase their risks of accidents. Having a plan in place for seniors who should limit their driving or who should stop driving altogether can help make the transition process easier without making them feel like they’re losing their independence.

In addition to the risks that seniors face due to their own limitations, they also face higher injury risks during accidents. Seniors are more susceptible to serious injuries that become disabling or even life-threatening, and their ability to heal and bounce back from injuries can be compromised as they age.

At Matt Hardin Law, our Bowling Green auto accident lawyers are here to help drivers and passengers of all ages who were hurt in accidents that were caused by negligent drivers. If you or someone you love was injured in a crash that wasn’t your fault, get in touch with us today. Just dial (270) 282-0110 or complete a free online form.

Why Do Seniors Have an Increased Risk of Auto Accidents?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that there were 47.8 million adult drivers 65 years old or older on American roadways in 2015. As the Baby Boomer generation ages, the number of senior drivers and their percentage among all drivers will increase significantly.

Aging affects both the body and the mind. Age-related conditions that can increase the risk of crashes include:

  • Macular degeneration, cataracts, and worsening eyesight – Although many senses come into play when driving, eyesight is the most important sense for safe driving. The aging process can cause vision to blur or even be lost due to conditions like macular degeneration or cataracts. Seniors with worsening vision may find that glasses or contacts aren’t as effective at correcting vision as they used to be, making it difficult for them to read street signs, see lines on the road, or track the movements of other vehicles.
  • Slower reflexes – When driving a vehicle at speeds up to 70 miles per hour, it’s essential to be able to react quickly. Whether it’s changing lanes, slowing down in response to a sudden traffic jam, or using an evasive maneuver to avoid an accident, quick reflexes can help save drivers’ lives. Older drivers may find that their reflexes are slower than they used to be, and being even a fraction of a second too slow when faced with danger can lead to serious accidents.
  • Memory loss – Memory loss can be a major issue for senior citizens, especially those suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. When driving, memory loss can increase the risk of accidents as seniors may forget where they’re headed or how to get somewhere. If they realize that they’re lost, they may panic and attempt dangerous driving maneuvers to turn around and head in a direction that they’re more familiar with.

Despite the physical and mental ailments that can increase the risks that seniors face, there is good news for the older population. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that seniors have a high incidence of seat belt usage. In fact, drivers who are age 70 and older have an 88 percent likelihood of buckling up when they drive or ride in vehicles, which is the highest of all age groups surveyed by the NHTSA.

In addition, seniors are more likely than drivers in other age groups to limit their driving during dangerous conditions or times of day, such as at night, during inclement weather, or on high speed roads compared to other drivers. They’re also much less likely to drive while impaired or intoxicated, as only six percent of drivers age 75 or older who were involved in fatal crashes had blood alcohol contents of 0.08 or higher in 2015.

How Can Seniors Reduce Their Driving-Related Risks?

Whether you’re a senior citizen or the concerned family member of a senior, it’s important to be aware of the risk factors for age-related accidents and how to mitigate them.

Some important steps to take include:

  • Regular eye and vision exams – Given the importance of eyesight for safe driving, it’s vital that seniors get their vision checked regularly for reduced visual acuity and early signs of eye-related diseases and conditions. Seniors should have enough visual acuity with or without corrective lenses to easily see road signs, spot pedestrians, and handle the glare from headlights and street lights when driving after dark.
  • Physical therapy to increase mobility – Another aspect of the aging process that can be detrimental to safe driving is the loss of mobility, flexibility, and strength. Some seniors may find it difficult to sit upright for long periods of time or hold their bodies in a driving position without losing sensation or experiencing pain. Physical therapy and exercise programs can help them regain the muscle tone and flexibility need to drive safely and comfortably.
  • Driving courses to get objective assessments of ability – Seniors who are worried about their ability to drive safely can benefit from taking driving courses. Instructors will not only help them learn new tricks and refine their driving skills, but they can also provide honest and objective feedback on their driving abilities and whether age-related conditions may make it dangerous for them to be behind the wheel.

As seniors age, they should continue to be evaluated for any conditions that can increase their risk of accidents. It’s also important for them to tell loved ones if they ever feel scared while driving, if they receive traffic citations, or if they’re involved in accidents.

Alternative Arrangements for Seniors Who Can No Longer Drive Safely

Even the healthiest and most proactive seniors may face a day when they’re no longer able to drive safely. When that happens, it’s important to have a plan ready for them to maintain their independence and ability to complete daily errands.

Alternative solutions include:

  • Food and prescription medication delivery services
  • Public transportation
  • Getting rides from friends and family
  • Private transportation
  • Moving to areas where necessities are within walking distance

Giving up car keys can be a difficult choice for many seniors, as they may feel like they’re giving up their independence. But it’s an important decision to make, and with the help of their friends and family, it may be a decision that saves their lives.