Road safety for Senior Drivers


Healthy Living – September 26, 2017
Anthony Tannous, MD – Eastern Maine Medical Center

The number of US Residents age 65 and over grew from 35 million in 2000 to 49.2 million in 2016. Vehicle drivers are getting older and older every year and senior drivers have higher rates of fatal crashes, based on miles driven, than any other group except young drivers. There is obviously a growing need to help senior drivers sharpen their skills as well as recognize their changing abilities and adapt their driving practices appropriately. In many states, programs have been created to address these needs but it is always useful to go over some precautionary measures that go a long way towards insuring the safety of senior drivers and the public.

Senior drivers should make sure to schedule regular checkups to monitor joint stiffness, chronic conditions such as diabetes, seizures and cardiac problems, fatigue and stress. These problems affect concentration, focus and ease of driving. They should also schedule hearing and vision tests. Glasses or contact lenses as well as hearing aids should always be worn and nighttime driving may need to be completely avoided if nighttime vision is compromised. And as the medication list lengthens, these medications and their dosing should be checked regularly.

It’s important to be realistic about one’s limitations and to make some necessary adjustments. We ask senior drivers to increase their following distance to allow more reaction time; use brakes early when approaching a stop sign or a red light; avoid busy areas of traffic and always scan as far down the road as possible; adjust the driving position regularly and reposition stirring wheel, seat and mirrors to fit abilities; avoid dangerous conditions such as inclement weather, nighttime and rush hour.

Most states offer a mature driving course. It is a great way to be proactive about your safety on the road and learn the best rules of defensive driving.

There is a point however where the safest and wisest option is to turn your car keys over. Warning signs that may alert our senior drivers and their families that that time has come include the following
  • Difficulty changing lanes
  • Sudden drifting into other lanes
  • Problems judging distance
  • Forgetting to use turn signals
  • Multiple close call incidents
  • New dents or scratches on the car
  • Missing stop signs and red lights
  • Collisions with non-moving objects
  • An increase in traffic violations
  • An increased frequency of “getting lost”
  • Incidents of road rage
Driving licenses can be surrendered at the local DMV and replaced by a state ID card.
If you are concerned about the safety of a family member on the road, make sure to have that conversation with them prior to a major incident. It’s a difficult conversation to have but it could be lifesaving.  Make safety the priority in the conversation and make sure the talk is private with your loved one. Always show support and understanding and offer help with figuring out alternative transportation option to ensure the maintenance of independence. If you feel that driving is still a viable option, reinforce the need for a mature driving course.

Ultimately our seniors should be cherished and protected and ensuring their safety on the road is key to maintaining their quality of life.
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