As people age, their bodies and minds change. While many senior citizens are perfectly safe drivers, others may experience difficulties that render their driving unsafe. It can be difficult for friends and family to recognize or admit when an elderly loved one has become less safe on the road.
Signs of Unsafe Driving
According to the Centers for Disease Control, as one ages the risk of being injured or killed in an automobile accident increases. Furthermore, the rate of fatal crashes begin to increase significantly after the age of 75 and even more so if the driver is 80 or older. While part of these elderly driving statistics is attributable to greater susceptibility to injury and medical complications, some also arises from age-related physical or mental conditions that impair the ability to drive.
While physical aging isn't a sign by itself that a senior citizen is unsafe behind the wheel, it can provide cause for loved ones to monitor the situation carefully. A number of age-related health conditions may naturally make it more difficult for someone to drive safely.
- Decreased flexibility can make it difficult to perform a number of functions necessary for safe driving, such as turning the head to check blind spots or back up, as well as applying the proper pressure to the gas and brakes. Watch for inability to turn the head or neck, as well as stiffness and weakness in legs, arms, or other body parts important for safe driving.
- Poor eyesight occurs naturally as part of the aging process. While licensing tests require vision screening, eyesight in elderly people can change rapidly between license renewals. Impaired vision may make it difficult to see traffic signs and signals, as well as other vehicles or pedestrians. Eyesight problems can also make it difficult to judge distances. Likewise, issues such as light sensitivity or poor dark vision may make driving difficult.
- Hearing problems may also decrease safety when driving. For example, a senior citizen with poor hearing may miss important sounds necessary for safe driving such as sirens.
- Diminished reflexes slow reaction times. When driving, it is often necessary to react quickly in order to avoid accidents. Watch for noticeably slow movements or reactions both in the car and out of it.
- Medical issues may also reduce the safety of driving. For example, medications may be causing mental fogginess or other difficulties.
In some cases, people may not be mentally alert enough to drive safely.
- Forgetfulness can be problematic when it comes to driving. If a senior is displaying increased signs of forgetfulness, it may be time to reassess whether or not she should have a license.
- Confusion can also make it difficult to drive safely. If the senior citizen appears confused or foggy, then it likely he is not safe to drive any longer.
- Drowsiness is also an unsafe condition for driving. If a senior citizen is sleepy most of the time, she is at risk of falling asleep on the road. Likewise, being sleepy diminishes reflexes even further.
- Behavioral changes may also indicate there is a driving safety problem. Caring.com suggests you observe the senior citizen in the car and make sure she is still engaging in behaviors such as fastening seat belts and using blinkers. Likewise, watch for agitation, confusion, or mood swings while driving that may diminish safety.
There are many other things that may occur that indicate a senior citizen is no longer safe to drive.
- Near misses and fender benders may be a sign the driver is now unsafe. While everyone has a close call in the car from time to time, these instances are exceedingly rare. However, if a senior citizen has several of these incidents, it may be time to reassess their driving safety. There is a chance that the senior will not report these incidents, so look for scratches or dents in their vehicle and ask the cause. According to AAA, two or more collisions or near misses in the past two years may indicate there's a problem.
- Traffic infractions may also indicate there is an issue. While a rare ticket or infraction happens to even the best driver, if they are occurring with any frequency, then it is likely indicating there is a safety issue. AAA states that two or more infractions or warnings in two years may point to unsafe driving.
- Getting lost frequently may also indicate a problem. Many people lose their way from time to time. However, if the driver reports getting lost frequently, or is often late to appointments or engagements due to difficulty finding his way, then he may not be a safe driver.
- Forgetting the basics of driving is a definite indicator the driver is no longer safe. For example, if a senior citizen is suddenly confused by commonplace driving activities such as turning on blinkers or changing lanes, then it may be time to reassess the situation.
Monitoring Senior Drivers
The topic of unsafe senior driving is fraught with emotion for everyone involved. Driving is an important way for senior citizens to maintain a sense of independence. In some cases, however, elderly adults may experience diminished reflexes, poor eyesight, reduced range of motion, or mental lapses that render their driving unsafe. Family and loved ones should monitor senior citizens carefully when they suspect the person is no longer safe behind the wheel.