Despite a tendency to be the safest drivers of all, senior drivers are more at risk for injury.
Driving helps older adults to stay mobile and independent. But beyond a certain age, the risk of being injured in an automobile accident starts to rise significantly.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2017, about 7,700 older adults — those 65 years old or older — were killed in motor vehicle accidents, and more than 257,000 were seriously injured. The oldest drivers, especially those over age 75, are more likely to be killed in automobile accidents than drivers between the ages of 35 and 54.
Why Older Drivers Are More at Risk
Up to a point, older adults tend to be the safest drivers of all. More than members of younger age groups, older drivers wear seat belts, travel when conditions are favorable, and avoid driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
So why are they also more likely to be injured on the road? Well, as we get older, we get weaker.
- Slower reaction times. As we age, our reflexes and reaction times often slow down, making us more vulnerable to sudden hazards or unexpected movements by other motorists.
- Reduced mobility. Aging can cause joints to stiffen and muscles to weaken. Arthritis may also set in, affecting the ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. Reduced mobility may make it harder to turn the head to look back, harder to operate the steering wheel smoothly and quickly, harder to apply the brakes as quickly as the circumstances require.
- Weaker eyesight. Eyesight weakens as we age, often making it harder to see people, objects, and movement outside the direct line of sight. This is especially true at night when it can take longer to read street signs or recognize familiar places.
- Weaker hearing. As we get older, it may also be harder to hear horns, sirens, or even noises being made by our own vehicle. If we don’t hear warning sounds, we can’t heed them by pulling over or getting out of the way of another vehicle.
- Early Dementia. Persons suffering from an early stage of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may not realize that they’re having driving problems. As memory and decision-making ability deteriorate, friends and family members should monitor an older person’s driving and take action if they observe a problem.
- Effects of Medications. Many over-the-counter and prescription medications can make older people feel tired, lightheaded, or less alert than normal. Although these medications typically come with warnings about drowsiness and driving, some people ignore the warnings or don’t recognize how these drugs are impairing their driving ability.
Safe Driving Tips for Older Motorists
If you are an older driver, you can stay safer behind the wheel by:
- Taking a defensive driving course to sharpen your skills.
- Staying off the road when rain, ice, or snow makes it harder to drive.
- Avoiding high-traffic roadways and choosing a route that requires fewer left-hand turns.
- Checking with your doctor to make sure that your medications are not making it harder to drive safely.
- Getting your driving skills checked by a driving rehabilitation specialist, occupational therapist, or other trained professional.
If you discover that you can no longer drive safely, giving it up may be a hard choice to make. But accepting the reality and finding alternatives is better than getting injured or being in an accident that you might have avoided.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an auto accident in Colorado, contact personal injury attorney Dan Rosen at (303) 454-8000 or (800) ROSEN-911 for a free consultation.