Statistically speaking, teenagers are among the most accident-prone drivers. Teens are more than three times likely to die in a car accident than those over age 20 and account for about 30 percent of the costs associated with car accidents in the U.S.
Young drivers are not the only people vulnerable to serious accidents, though. Older drivers, those over age 65, also have a significant risk of being involved in a car crash. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 500 of the estimated 33 million licensed drivers over the age of 65 are injured in accidents every day. The older we get, the greater the risk of a serious or fatal accident. Mile for mile, the risk of a serious or fatal injury increases dramatically at ages 75 and 80.
Unlike younger drivers, who are likely to be hurt or killed in crashes caused by inexperience or distractions, older drivers are more commonly hurt due to their susceptibility to injuries and not their driving abilities. It is perfectly natural for eyesight to deteriorate, reflexes to slow down and for memory and focus to decline over time. Compounding the problem is that many older adults are taking medications with the potential to impair driving abilities — often without the driver even realizing it.
That said, it is still important for seniors to take precautions to avoid being involved in a car accident. That does not mean that as soon as you can no longer keep up with your grandchildren or start taking medication for high blood pressure you must hang up the keys. It means you need to be vigilant and take the necessary steps to stay safe on the road.
Stay Aware and Stay Safe
Older drivers often resist changing their driving habits, noting that they have decades of experience behind the wheel. That may be true, but for everyone’s safety, drivers over the age of 65 should:
- Have an annual vision test and update prescription eyewear regularly.
- Discuss the potential effects any medication could have on your driving abilities with your doctor or pharmacist. If you start taking a new medication, do not drive until you know how it affects you.
- Avoid driving in treacherous weather conditions, which can challenge even the most experienced of drivers. Understand your limitations; for example, if you have trouble seeing in dim light, do not drive after dark.
- Take care of yourself. Studies show that regular exercise, including light strength training, makes a measurable difference when it comes to maintaining flexibility, reflexes and mental acuity.
It is also important for seniors to realize when to stop driving. It can be a difficult decision to make, but when maintaining your independence involves putting yourself — and others — at a significant risk, it is only responsible to seek out other forms of transportation. Some of the signs you should stop driving include multiple “fender benders” or close calls, multiple traffic tickets, increased road rage or frustration, repeatedly getting lost even in familiar areas and significantly slowed reaction times. Certain medical conditions can also call for a cessation of driving; people with neurological conditions, for example, generally should not drive.
Everyone looks forward to getting their first driver’s license as a teen, and few drivers ever think about the day when they can no longer drive. Taking the necessary precautions, understanding your limitations and being cautious behind the wheel can go a long way toward prolonging the time before that day comes.