Senior Driving accidents grab headlines more than those of any other age group. This has led many to believe that drivers over the age of 60 are probably the worst drivers on the road. In sharp contrast, statistics released by the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) show the safest drivers are found to be between 64 and 69 years old. The highest risk group is actually teenaged male drivers! Senior drivers are however most likely to die in a crash because at their age they are much more frail.
Aging and driving– the popular myths about senior drivers that they are careless on the road, have much slower reflexes and are a danger to others on the road because of their erratic driving have all been proved wrong by in-depth studies in this regard. The biggest thing against seniors is the perception that as bodily functions are affected by advancing age, older drivers are higher risk. The specific physical abilities necessary to be a safe driver like sound vision and hearing, a strong memory, quick reaction time and flexibility, do decline as we grow older, but this rate of decline sharply varies from person to person.
Statistics however prove that elder drivers are more likely to receive traffic citations for turning improperly, going through red lights or otherwise failing to yield to traffic signs. Accidents cause more fatalities in this age group, they are more likely to be seriously hurt and require more hospitalization. However, a healthy adult with safe driving habits in his middle years will often mature into a careful senior driver.
Environmental factors– Though these are often amplified in seniors, environmental factors like confusing intersections or unclear road signs are irritants to people of all age groups. Added risk factors are the typically older generation cars, because they have less safety features, but seniors prefer these cars. A well maintained vehicle, with a bigger display panel, one that a person is well oriented to and clearly marked road signals go a long way in helping senior drivers in their driving.
Usually a comprehensive assessment helps ascertain if the senior driver is fit to take his car on the road or needs help. However, talking to a senior about his driving is a sensitive issue and should be taken up with care and empathy.
Driver Assessment: It’s usually a good idea to have senior drivers undergo driving assessment after every few years once they cross 60, if any of the following signs are visible:
Sudden problems on the road like abrupt braking or lane changes or generally erratic driving
Display of slower reflexes like slower response to road conditions, confusion between the gas and brake pedals and trouble reading road signs
Shorter attention and memory spans like forgetting routes, trouble handling change, missing exit signs
Increased citations, more visible dents and scrapes on the car.
Senior driver safety classes help refresh driving skills of senior drivers and are usually recommended to most of the drivers who go in for an assessment. Lots of organizations like the State DMV and local AARP chapters impart these trainings which have proved immensely beneficial for the following reasons:
A driver is better prepared to handle the road as one learns to be more aware of the other drivers around him. Defensive driving is stressed upon.
The latest rules and regulations, road signs, driving etiquette are all refreshed in these courses.
The driver and his family are more confident about their driving skills so there are far lesser chances of keys being snatched away. This means a senior is independent, mobile and usually more active for longer.
The defensive driving certification usually also gets seniors lower premiums and discounts on auto insurance, providing a strong financial incentive as well.
To sum up, there is a lot of bias against senior drivers as any collision involving one behind the wheel, is blown out of proportion by the media and general population.
It is wrong to automatically assume that roads would be much safer if senior drivers were kept away. Before snatching the car keys away from an elder driver make sure you are certain about his/her poor driving capabilities beyond reasonable doubt. Assessments for seniors are meant to help in this regard. If a senior is of sound physical and mental health and a careful driver on the road, do not stop him/her from driving. That can be terribly demoralizing and lead to depression and withdrawal. Instead, enroll him/her in a defensive driver class to help refresh driving skills and prepare him/her to tackle the road more confidently, for longer.
Christoper Smith is a retired personal finance consultant, interested in adventure living. He loves to explore new places, people and cultures with his wife. He writes regularly during his travels; mostly on the road, from his trailer. His interest lies in the fields of finance and insurance [home, life and auto insurance] – his favorite subjects from the past.