Motor vehicle safety is a constant concern for those in the senior industry who work with older adults. And it should be.
The most recent data show that as of 2016, there were almost 42 million licensed drivers aged 65 and older in the United States. About 7,400 of those were killed, and more than 290,000 were treated in emergency departments as a result of car crashes. Those numbers will surely increase because of the aging population we all are acutely aware of.
Why is driving more dangerous for older adults? The answer seems obvious but bears an explanation. As we age, declines in vision and cognition (ability to reason and remember), and physical changes might affect driving. Also, medical problems such as heart disease, dementia, sleep disorders, and limited hearing and vision place them at an increased risk of car crashes. Finally, medicines, both prescription and over the counter (such as those used for sleep, mood, pain, and/or allergies), might affect driving safety.
Older adults may be aware of these issues, but many still insist on continuing to drive because they want to stay independent and be mobile. The good news is that according to the CDC, there are steps they can take to stay safer on the roads. If you’re talking to older adults about driving, be sure to include these tips:
- Always wear your seat belt. Fortunately, older adults are good at wearing their seat belts. Among passenger vehicle occupants (drivers and passengers) killed in a crash, a higher proportion of older adults were wearing seat belts at the time of the crash (64% of those ages 65-74 and 69% of those ages 75+) compared with younger adults.
- Drive during daylight and in good weather. Another positive, older drivers often avoid driving during at night, in bad weather and on higher speed roads, in comparison with younger drivers
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review medicines – both prescription and over-the-counter – to reduce side effects and interactions.
- Have your eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year? Wear glasses and corrective lenses as required.
- Find the safest route with well-lit streets, intersections with left-turn arrows, and easy parking.
- Plan your route before you drive.
- Leave a large following distance behind the car in front of you.
- Avoid distractions in your car, such as listening to a loud radio, talking on your cell phone, texting, and eating.
- Consider potential alternatives to driving, such as riding with a friend, rideshare services, or using public transit, which you can use to get around.
- Follow a regular activity program to increase strength and flexibility.
- Don’t drink and drive. Luckily, older adult drivers are less likely to drink and drive than other adult drivers
The CDC also has a downloadable tool, MyMobility Plan, that older adults can use with tips and resources to make a plan to stay mobile and independent as they age. It also has a fact sheet, “Are Your Medicines Increasing Your Risk of a Fall or a Car Crash?” that may be helpful to provide to your patients, clients or loved ones.
 Federal Highway Administration, Department of Transportation (US). Highway Statistics 2016. Washington (DC): FHWA; September 2018. Available at: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics/2016/External