Are you over 65 years old? Or maybe you have a family member over 65 and still driving a car? Then this article is for you; providing tips and information on what to do if you or someone in your family is getting up in years.
For many of us, driving is freedom; the freedom to go where we want, visit who we wish, and explore new sights. It can be exciting, driving down the road on a new adventure, or to visit family and friends. But as we age, it can also become challenging. The number of drivers over age 65 is growing, and will continue to grow for many years as the baby boom generation moves into retirement. In 2011 there were 35 million licensed older drivers, a 21 percent increase from 2002.
We are living longer and healthier lives, but we need to remain alert to how we drive, and whether or not we are a potential risk to ourselves or others. Our eyesight and physical abilities change as we age; our reaction times slow down, and even our judgment can be affected by aging. This is not to say that we should stop driving at age 65; it means that we need to be more alert to our situation and ask some crucial questions.
In 2011, 5,401 people age 65 and older were killed, with 185,000 people injured in car crashes, representing 17 percent of all traffic fatalities and 8 percent of all traffic crash injuries. While fatal crash rates are the highest among drivers over 85 years old, the increased fatal crash risk is more due to medical complications, not an increased tendency to get into a crash.
Know Your Limitations
It is therefore crucial that we recognize our own limitations, ask the appropriate questions and take the right steps to be safe drivers. At some point, it is important to ask yourself or your loved ones:
- Has anyone expressed concerns about your driving?
- How is your vision?
- How is your physical fitness?
- How is your attention and reaction time?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has created the pamphlet Driving Safely While Aging Gracefully. This publication asks these basic questions, allows you to honestly evaluate your answers, and then determine what should be done based on those answers.
Because of the dramatic increase in the number of drivers over the age of 65, the available resources have grown quickly, and include:
- Publications and websites on Senior Driving
- Evaluations of your driving abilities, and;
- Driving courses designed to support older drivers.
Take the Time to Understand
These resources can help enhance your driving skills and increase your awareness and understanding of what it means to drive when older. In the meantime, remember a few basic tips to stay safe:
- Remain fit, and exercise to increase your strength and flexibility
- Make sure any medications don’t have any side effects that will cause problems when driving
- Get your eyes checked on a regular basis
- Drive during the day and in good weather
- Use the safest route, which does not necessarily mean the most direct way
- Take the time before you leave to plan what route you will use
- Reduce the number of distractions in your car, especially by not using a cell phone while driving—regardless if it is hands-free or not.
As you reach that age where you are free to visit family and friends, or travel across the country to see new sights, you want to be sure to arrive safe and sound. Take the time to make sure your driving skills are safe for you, those in your car, and everyone around you as you head out on your next adventure.
 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Fatality facts 2009: Older People. Arlington (VA): IIHS; 2010. [cited 2011 Feb 25]. Available from URL: http://www.iihs.org/research/fatality_facts_2009/olderpeople.htm