Baby Boomers started reaching retirement age in 2011, and the U.S. Census Bureau projects that the elderly population will grow faster in the years to come. By 2424, a quarter of U.S. drivers will be 65 or older.
Senior citizens and their families face challenges, including maximizing mobility while maintaining safety. Seniors often need to drive to remain independent, but they also are more likely to be injured or killed in a car accident than younger drivers.
Seniors may be more susceptible to injury in an accident because of age-related conditions. For instance, osteoporosis patients who get in traffic collisions are at high risk for broken bones.
However, elderly drivers are more likely than younger drivers to take safety precautions, such as using seat belts, not driving in bad weather or at night and refraining from drinking before driving.
Senior citizen drivers can do a lot to keep themselves mentally sharp and safe on the road. The Mayo Clinic offers the following seven tips for elderly drivers:
- Stay active and stick with an exercise routine. Physical activity can help older drivers stay limber and strong enough to operate a vehicle with ease. Sometimes, turning the steering wheel or looking over one’s shoulder can become difficult due to declining strength and flexibility. Make sure to check with a doctor about safe exercise routines.
- Get vision and hearing tests regularly. As people age, vision and hearing often deteriorate. Being able to see and hear traffic is important for safe driving. If necessary, update eyeglasses and hearing aid prescriptions before continuing to drive.
- Manage any chronic illnesses or other health conditions. Some medical issues that are common among senior citizens can affect driver safety. Older people should not try to drive while using medications that cause dizziness, drowsiness, or other side effects that might impair driving ability. Consulting a doctor about chronic conditions and medications that have an impact on safe driving.
- Adjust driving routines to accommodate changes associated with aging. Many older drivers select vehicles with power steering and mirrors and find it easier to get in and out of larger cars. Sometimes occupational therapy is helpful, especially if the older driver experiences pain when performing tasks like steering or checking blind spots.
- Drive under ideal conditions. Avoid driving in bad weather and during rush hour, and select familiar, easy routes. Never drive under the influence of alcohol, medications, and other intoxicating substances.
- Plan trips ahead of time. Choose a route and look at the map before traveling to avoid getting lost or being distracted by navigation devices.
- Take a refresher course. Driving classes for the elderly are a great way to update driving skills and stay sharp behind the wheel. Sometimes, refresher classes make older drivers eligible for car insurance discounts.
A senior’s ability to drive safely is a serious consideration for family members. But it can be difficult for families to discuss whether a senior should stop driving. They often need to help senior family members give up the keys and find other transportation resources.
While it is important to remain independent, seniors need to avoid situations where they are putting themselves and others at risk.