My dad is the best driver I know. To this day, he has never been issued a traffic citation while driving. However, this is not to say he hasn’t been pulled over and given a verbal warning. Even so, my dad is 73 years old and still a good driver. But I have noticed recently he is moving over to the passenger seat and allowing me to drive the family on road trips. This is probably a good thing.
When it comes to senior driving, what you say or don’t say can influence the decisions of older adults, and that can make the difference between safety, injury, life or death.
California’s older driver population, numbering about 2.9 million today, will increase to 4 million by 2020 and 6.9 million by 2040. Based on current statistics regarding older drivers’ propensity to be involved in injury collisions, this increase means crash injuries and unfortunately deaths will also increase substantially.
Strategies to minimize senior casualties are a priority for the California Highway Patrol. Research by such groups as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety demonstrates that seniors involved in crashes tend to be more vulnerable than younger people. This means seniors suffer more severe injuries than younger drivers. This is simply a function of age and the fact that seniors are more fragile. Crash prevention and in-vehicle occupant protection is obviously an urgent need.
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Besides the mechanics of seniors being injured in a collision, it should be noted the variety of effects of aging on senior’s driving ability. We need to know that as we age, there are gradual effects on vision, flexibility, response times and even memory. These factors could compromise safety and eventually require seniors to stop driving altogether. Family members are usually the first to notice that a senior may be having difficulty behind the wheel.
Some warning signs for families and friends of older drivers are the following:
▪ Gets lost or disoriented easily, even in familiar places.
▪ Neglects to buckle up.
▪ Has difficulty working the pedals.
▪ Has difficulty merging on freeways.
▪ Has trouble seeing other vehicles, cyclists or pedestrians, especially at night.
▪ Ignores or misses stop signs and other traffic signals.
▪ Reacts slowly to sirens and flashing lights of emergency vehicles.
▪ Weaves, straddles lanes, drifts into other lanes or changes lanes without signaling.
▪ Has received two or more traffic citations, warnings, or has been involved in collisions during the last two years.
Californians 70 and older are required to visit a DMV office for license renewal. Mail-in renewals are no longer an option. The tests given at this time usually are a vision exam and a written test of driving knowledge, although the DMV can also require a driving test. The extra testing requirements for our elders are not meant to be discriminatory; rather, they are meant to keep the public safe. In fact, if a driver passes the tests, they can continue driving regardless of age. In California there are thousands of people in their 90s and some more than 100 years old who remain capable and safe drivers with valid driver’s licenses.
None of us want to see our parents or loved ones lose the ability to drive. But when the time comes, we need to help them make a responsible decision. Ideally, the first conversation about safety should occur long before driving becomes a problem. Understandably, conversations can be tense and awkward for everyone involved. There are things you can say and do to make those conversations more productive and comfortable. Be candid with your driving senior and don’t sugar coat the conversation. Remember, they were once in your shoes. Be supportive and put health and safety first.
When driving stops for seniors, their mobility needs continue. The transition from driver to passenger is not always easy or smooth. Your support and understanding are necessary before, during and after driving changes are made. Senior drivers deserve counsel and assistance in making the difficult transfer from driving to riding, including acceptance of public-transportation options.
More than anyone else, senior drivers strongly prefer not to hear about driving concerns from police officers. While some senior drivers may not welcome families talking about their driving, either, they still find it preferable to hearing from police. And they certainly would rather hear it from a family member than from a doctor after a collision.
Humorist Dave Barry sums up this way: “The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers.”