Think back to when you got your driver’s license for the first time. Remember the anticipation as you waited to be old enough to get behind the wheel and finally gain some freedom and independence? Now imagine someone taking that freedom and independence away from you. That feeling you just experienced is why so many seniors avoid voluntarily giving up their driving privileges. It is also why a disproportionate number of older Americans die each year in motor vehicle collisions. If you have a parent, grandparent, or older loved ones who is still driving well into their “Golden Years” you need to consider the following tips for keeping seniors safe behind the wheel.
Are Seniors Safe Behind the Wheel?
Overall, the answer is “no” – at least not statistically speaking, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, Or NHTSA. In 43 states, seniors are involved in a disproportionate number of motor vehicle deaths each year. In Rhode Island, the most dangerous state for seniors, rate of people 65 and over killed in a car crash is 34.6 but seniors make up only 15.8 percent of the state’s overall population. Rhode Island is hardly alone. In all but seven states seniors are involved in more fatal crashes than they should be. Residents of North Dakota will be happy to learn that North Dakota is in the number two position for the safest states for senior drivers. That doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t take precautions to make sure your older loved ones are safe behind the wheel.
Why Are Seniors at Risk?
Why are seniors so apt to be involved in motor vehicle collisions, particularly fatal collisions? Most of the answers won’t surprise you:
- Physical impairment – as we age, the natural aging process takes its toll on our bodies. Although advances in medicine, science, and technology are allowing us to live longer, we still experience the deterioration ages causes which may include things such as vision loss, arthritis, high blood pressure, and/or a weak heart. Any one of these can create a risk for a motorist while driving. Many seniors have several of these physical impairments.
- Mental impairment – just as aging affects our physical bodies, it also affects our mental state. One out of every three seniors dies suffering from Alzheimer’s, or another form of old age related dementia. A driver suffering from a mental impairment is a danger to everyone on the roadway.
- Changing rules of the road – a 75-year-old driver learned to drive back in the 1950s. The rules of the road have changed a bit since then, to say the least. Old habits die hard though and many senior drivers have a difficult time adjusting to those changing rules of the road.
- Changing technology – So say that technology has changed since that 75-year-old driver learned to drive would be the understatement of the year. Imagine that you learned to drive when seatbelts were an option, AM radio was your only option, and gas was less than a quarter a gallon. Then imagine driving a car that has a backup camera, a navigation system, and Bluetooth technology. It could be a little frightening – and distracting.
- Fear – Yes, some seniors are afraid when they drive; however, that’s not what this section is about. It’s about the fear seniors have of losing their ability to drive. That fear often causes them to put off renewing their license which, in turn, means they don’t get tested to ensure they are still safe to be on the roadway.
What Can You Do to Keep the Seniors in Your Life Safe Behind the Wheel?
No one wants to be the one to take the car keys away from mom, grandpa, or Uncle Phil; however, failing to do so could endanger lives and potentially make you liable for injuries. With that in mind, the following tips may help you keep the seniors in your life safe behind the wheel:
- Have “The Talk” – it may not be easy, but sit down with mom, grandpa, or Uncle Phil and have a heart to heart talk about the dangers of driving after 65. AARP offers a great online seminar “Talking with Older Drivers” that can help you get started.
- Be part of the solution – if you think it may be time for your loved one to stop driving, find a practical solution before you mention taking the keys away. Offer to drive him/her, have the public transportation schedules handy, and/or contract with a local taxi service. You might also focus on how selling the vehicle could pay for a dream vacation or giving it to a grandchild could be the answer to a prayer.
- Be prepared to use tough live if necessary – it all else fails, be prepared to step in and take the keys if necessary. Being the bag guy may not feel good, but it’s bound to feel better than planning a funeral does.