How Older Drivers Can Remain Safe Behind The Wheel

Let’s get this out of the way from the start—barring any unforeseen tragedy, we are all going to grow old, so concerns like balancing independence with safety affects us all. Driving is a convenience that allows older people to remain mobile and self-sufficient, and the importance of that to overall health and well-being cannot be denied. However, driving is also a responsibility. There may come a point in everyone’s life where it is no longer safe to get behind the wheel due to physical or mental decline. In this post, we’re going to take an objective look at the safety concerns of driving during the twilight years, including options for retaining independence even after giving up driving privileges.

Statistics regarding older adult drivers in the United States

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided the following statistics regarding drivers 65 years old and up for 2016 in the United States:

  • Number of active drivers 65 and older: one out of six
  • Number of older people injured in car accidents: approximately 290,000
  • Number of older people killed in car crashes: 7,400
  • Likelihood of medical issues making it harder to travel: Twice as many as for drivers ages 24-64
  • Number of older adults taking one or more prescriptions daily: Four out of every five
  • Common health issues of older Americans that may affect driving ability: vision decline, cognitive impairment, heart disease, hearing loss, and the onset of dementia

While these statistics might be concerning, they should not be accepted as proof that older people should not drive. No one wants to be infantilized or lose their independence just because they crossed a certain age threshold, nor should reaching a particular milestone be considered reason enough to give up your drivers license. Plenty of people can and do drive safely well into their 80s or even older. Instead, you need to consider whether one or more conditions that commonly affect older people could make driving too great a risk for yourself or someone you love.

Red flags that you or a loved one should stop driving

Some warning indicators are more easily spotted by a family member or friend than by the actual driver, who might not realize their skills behind the wheel have declined. Whether it is time to have a frank conversation with a parent, relative, or older friend—or if you’re concerned about your own abilities now that you’ve reached a certain age—we offer the following 11 questions to guide you to the right conclusion:

  1. When you’re out on the road, do you find other drivers frequently blowing their horns at you?
  2. In the past year, how many accidents have you been involved in (even minor ones)?
  3. How often do you find yourself drifting out of your lane or missing a turn because your mind was “elsewhere?”
  4. Does it seem tougher to remember how to get to places, even if you’ve been to them before?
  5. Do you feel more anxious than you used to while driving?
  6. In the past year, how many times were you pulled over by the police (even if you weren’t given a ticket)?
  7. Is your car dented because you often misjudge when pulling out of a parking space or otherwise failed to navigate around obstacles?
  8. Do you no longer feel safe driving at night?
  9. Does it seem like other drivers are always going too fast or taking actions too abruptly (e.g., changing lanes)?
  10. In the past year, did you ever accidentally press the gas pedal when you meant to hit the brakes (or vice-versa)?
  11. Has anyone close to you (family member, friend, neighbor, physician) mentioned being concerned about your driving or outright suggested you should consider stopping?

If you answer yes to one or more of the above, it might be time to evaluate whether you should continue driving. Alternately, if you are concerned about a loved one, ask yourself these questions with their driving ability in mind. If one or more responses are affirmative, it might be time to sit then down for a difficult but necessary conversation.

What you can do to remain a safe driver as long as possible

If you are in your 60s, 70s, or older but still feeling confident in your ability to drive, it’s still a good idea to take some extra precautions before you head out in your car. For example, if you’re going somewhere brand-new or where you haven’t been for some time, use an online direction provider like Google™ Maps or an old-fashioned paper map to plan your route. Even if you have a GPS in your car, the more confident you are that you know where you’re going, the less nervous and distracted you will be behind the wheel. Also, if you find you’re always more anxious when driving than you used to be, plan routes that allow you to avoid more challenging roads, high-speed freeways, and entry and exit ramps. Also, avoid extra stressors like running late by giving yourself extra travel time to reach an appointment.

Remember to always observe the following elements of safe driving while you’re on the road:

  • Wear your seatbelt—every time, all the time
  • If you need any assistive devices (e.g., hearing aids) wear them when driving
  • Avoid all extraneous activities like talking on the phone (yes, even handsfree) and eating
  • Make sure there are no impediments to seeing clearly. Wear your glasses or contact lenses, clear your windshields (front and back) with defrosters or wipers, and make sure your mirrors are properly adjusted before you leave home

Even outside your car, there are ways to keep yourself as healthy and sharp as possible well into your later years. Follow a doctor-recommended activity regimen to keep your strength and reflexes at peak performance. Discuss your medications and whether they pose a risk to safe driving with your physician or pharmacist, and if any are a concern, find out if there is something else you could take that would be equally effective but with lower risk. Get regular medical checkups, including your eyes, hearing, and overall health as directed by your doctors, and ask them if there is any reason you should be concerned about continuing driving.

Alternatives if driving yourself is no longer possible

Should the time come when you cannot drive anymore, remember that doesn’t mean you must sacrifice your independence. While in the past you might have found yourself having to ask friends or family members for rides or learning to navigate public transportation, more alternatives to driving yourself exist now than ever before. Thanks to the advent of rideshare services, including options that specifically cater to the needs of older adults, you can get to appointments and outings with the touch of an app. As an added bonus, you’ll save a great deal of money by not having to pay for gas, insurance, and upkeep on your own vehicle. Ask friends in the same situation, consult a medical professional, or contact an organization dedicated to the needs of older people for recommendations, or look up local options online.

After an accident, contact a Los Angeles automobile accident lawyer

If you are involved in a car crash with anyone of any age, you’re at risk of suffering injuries. As an older person those injuries are more likely to cause significant and long-term or permanent damage. Contact Los Angeles auto accident attorney Scott J. Corwin when you need help recovering compensation so that you can afford your medical care. Call for a free, no-obligation consultation at (310) 683-2300.