If you have a parent or grandparent who is well into their “Golden Years” and is still driving, you may be getting worried about their safety and the safety of those who share the road with them. Keeping seniors safe behind the wheel can be a challenge because for most people the ability to drive is associated with freedom and independence. Consequently, most of us do not want to give up our right to drive. The repercussions, however, of waiting to do something about seniors who really should not be behind the wheel can be deadly. If you are the loved one of an older driver who needs to give up the keys, it may fall on your shoulders to do something before it is too late.
Are Older Drivers Really Worse Drivers?
Unless you are an older driver yourself, you will probably admit to getting frustrated at the “old lady” puttering down the street or the “old man” who just cut you off. Most of us do get frustrated with older drivers and we all swear they don’t know how to drive; however, are older drivers really worse drivers or is that just in our imaginations?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the risk of injury in a motor vehicle accident does increase with age. In 2012, there were almost 36 million licensed drivers over the age of 65 in the United States, representing a 34 percent increase from 1999. That same year, more than 5,560 older adults were killed and more than 214,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes. Those figures amount to 15 older adults killed and 586 injured in crashes on average every day. Older drivers are more at risk for motor vehicle related injuries for two reasons:
- As we age, our visions and cognitive abilities decline. Therefore, older drivers are not able to react as quickly to hazards on the roadway and/or to changing road conditions.
- Older drivers also have an increased susceptibility to injury and medical complications, meaning they are more likely to suffer serious, even fatal, injuries if they are involved in an accident than their younger counterparts.
What Can You Do to Prevent a Loved One from Being Injured?
While older drivers are clearly at a higher risk of being injured in a motor vehicle accident, they do a few things going for them that helps reduce that risk. First, they are much more likely to wear their seatbelt. According to the CDC, 78 percent of older adults wear their seatbelt, compared to just 66 percent of younger adults. In addition, older drivers are more likely to drive only when conditions are safe and are less likely to drive impaired.
Despite these advantages, older drivers do remain at risk. Many states have enacted special driver’s license laws aimed at older drivers. In North Dakota, the only additional or special requirement for older driver is that starting at age 78 a driver must renew his/her license every four years instead of the usual six-year renewal period.
If you are concerned about a parent, grandparent, or other older loved one continuing to drive, you may need to sit down and have a discussion about the dangers of driving as an older adult. Ask your loved one to take the following steps, offered by the CDC, for older drivers:
- Exercising regularly to increase strength and flexibility.
- Asking your doctor or pharmacist to review medicines–both prescription and over-the counter–to reduce side effects and interactions.
- Having eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year. Wear glasses and corrective lenses as required.
- Driving during daylight and in good weather.
- Finding the safest route with well-lit streets, intersections with left turn arrows, and easy parking.
- Planning your route before you drive.
- Leaving a large following distance behind the car in front of you.
- Avoiding distractions in your car, such as listening to a loud radio, talking on your cell phone, texting, and eating.
- Considering potential alternatives to driving, such as riding with a friend or using public transit, that you can use to get around.
If you have questions or concerns regarding elder law, contact the experienced North Dakota elder law attorneys at German Law by calling 701-738-0060 to schedule an appointment.