The good news: people are living longer. The bad news: not all of those people are (to be perfectly honest) safe to drive.
With the baby boomer population now reaching their golden years, MSN Money recently reported on the silver tsunami — a tidal wave of senior drivers. Experts say that in the next decade, 25 percent of all drivers will be over the age of 65. That’s a big number!
Unfortunately, like a tsunami, there is an implicit danger in sharing the road with so many aging drivers. As people age, their flexibility, vision, memory, and reflexes naturally diminish — and that has a direct impact on their driving. In fact, left turn crashes are much higher among this population as they have trouble judging the speed and distance of oncoming traffic.
Senior driver statistics
Research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) shows that people over 65 drive far less than their younger counterparts. That’s a good thing. However, when you look at per-mile accident rates, this age group is second only to teenagers. And after age 85, the rate triples. Even worse, mature drivers are more likely to suffer serious injury or death due to their frailty.
This issue of senior driving is big enough to have several Facebook pages devoted to it — usually with the message that seniors should get off the road (which we think is a little harsh at face value). But giving up driving privileges is a sensitive subject for most seniors. And rightly so. How would you feel if you couldn’t jump in the car and drive to the store? What if you had to rely on family members or friends to get around?
Yet, sometimes the physical ramifications outweigh the emotional ones, and we have to put the brakes (pardon the pun) on Grandpa Joe’s dangerous driving. Most states don’t have laws regulating senior driving, so it’s up to families to decide when it’s time to hand over the keys.
Monitoring older drivers
It’s not easy to have this conversation with seniors, as it’s important to be sensitive to what they’re going through. Here are just a few ways to curb potential hazards.
Take granny and gramps for a test drive. Start with a baseline for how they currently drive and check in every few months to see if their ability has declined. Take notes if you have to, so you can show them evidence of what’s changed.
Encourage regular checkups and eye exams. Yearly physical exams can alert seniors to physical or mental conditions that may impact their driving abilities. And, in case it wasn’t obvious, eye exams can determine whether or not their eyes are up to the many challenges of (safe) driving.
Set driving limits. Instead of quitting cold turkey (unless there’s good reason to), suggest eliminating the more dangerous aspects of driving, such as driving at night or in poor weather conditions. As time goes on, limiting the amount of driving they do can also cut down on potential accidents. Studies show that the per-mile rate of accidents is extremely high for seniors. Therefore, the less they’re behind the wheel, the less likely an accident will occur.
Suggest other modes of transportation. This may mean you need to offer up your own chauffeuring services from time to time, but if it keeps granny (and others on the road) safe, it’s probably worth it. Also, if possible, walking is a great way to get around and get exercise (which, research shows, actually improves mental agility). After all, if they used to walk 8 miles in the snow to get to school, they can probably manage half a mile to the store.
No one wants to admit they can no longer do something they once did, but when safety, or even lives, are at stake, sometimes we have to take a hard line. But enough reigning in grams and gramps. Grandma Betty would probably love a phone call from her favorite grandchild right about now.