8 Motor Vehicle Safety Travel Tips for Older Adult Drivers
By: Rosemarie Tamunday Casanova — RN, BSN, MHA
There are over 60 million drivers with a driving license who are aged 65 and above in the United States today. In fact, a CDC 2018 study puts the exact figure at 65 million. This is already a 60% increase from what the figures once were eight years before. A number that is expected to keep rising due to the rapid increase in the aging population. With these numbers, the chances are that more road traffic accidents associated with age will also likely be on the rise if nothing is done to checkmate that tide.
Accident risks increase as age increases and the outcome so far is indeed, is one of great concern. In 2018 alone, 7,700 deaths were recorded from automobile crashes associated with the aging population. A further 250,000 elderly people were treated at the emergency from varying degrees of injuries sustained from similar accidents. Here is another way to look at it: everyday, 20 people who are 65years and above lose their lives from accidents and 700 more are treated for injuries.
These figures leave us begging the question; why are there so many accidents within a relatively smaller demographic of the entire driving population? The reasons are not far-fetched.
Why accidents happen with adult drivers
With aging sometimes comes a gradual loss in visual acuity. There are many age related illnesses that can affect how well a person can see ranging from hypertension and diabetes to glaucoma and astigmatism.
These eye conditions can sometimes affect how far or clearly one can see, their peripheral vision, color judgement and light balance. Any of these illnesses or defects come with a risk when handling vehicles.
Motor coordination is about how well we can control our muscles to carry out required tasks. Driving involves a coordinated movement of the hands, legs, eyes, neck and many other muscles of the body. Our reflexes tend to become slower as we age. Other conditions that can affect these movements like arthritis and Parkinson’s disease are also age related and when present, can become a strong reason to re-evaluate the need to drive oneself.
All drivers already have or create a mental image of where they have been before and where they are headed. Driving also requires one to look out for signs, recall stops and directions. But when memory is affected, as is the case with some aging people, these subtle nuances in judgement are affected, making driving quite difficult and even risky.
Many elderly people will need to be on some routine medication either for pain or to regulate certain metabolic processes or organ function. Sometimes, these medications have side effects that affect the movement of the muscles or even mental states and level of alertness. Driving under the influence of such medications can cause the driver to fall asleep, potentially leading to an accident.
Another important organ required for effective driving are the ears. The ability to judge sound types and distance can be the difference between life and death. Being aware of warning horns from other road users or of suspicious sounds from your own vehicle can help you prevent an accident from happening.
In all, the growing elderly population can not be stopped from using vehicles because of these concerns. But there are steps that can be put in place to help curb the rate of road traffic accidents associated with adult drivers.
Safety tips for Adult drivers
1. Always use the seat belt
Since its invention in the late 1950s, data on the effectiveness of its use have varied. However, the one consistent finding is that it has reduced the rate of deaths from vehicular accidents significantly. A study showed that in 2000, only 70% of front seat passengers used their seat belts and there were 50.9% deaths in this category of accident victims. 20 years later, seat belt use had risen to 90.3% for front seat passengers and the death in that category dropped to 38.5%.
When in a moving vehicle, the passengers move at the same speed as the vehicle. If for any reason, the acceleration of the vehicle is stopped abruptly, as seen in collision accidents, seat belts hold the passenger in place, preventing them from continuing at that same speed and causing a secondary collision with the interior of the car or thrown outside. The use of seat belts is one of the golden rules of driving and adult drivers need to adhere to it at all times.
2. Only drive when the conditions are safe
For adult drivers, many conditions have to be factored in to make driving safe. It is advised to drive during daylight rather than at night, for clearer vision. Also, adult drivers can consider driving at hours when the traffic is light. Sticking to paths/routes you already know instead of trying out new ones is safer and this is better done in good weather too as against in heavy rain, fogs and snow.
3. Ensure medical fitness
Always make sure that you are certified medically to drive. Where in doubt of health conditions such as hearing or vision, kindly visit the appropriate medical professional for proper management and advice. Some adult drivers may require special goggles or hearing aids while others may need leg braces or other therapeutic options.
4. Do not drink and drive
Alcohol distorts vision, leads to poor judgment and affects muscle reflexes. Drinking and driving is one of the leading causes of road traffic accidents and all drivers, for their own safety and that of other road users, should make it a habit not to do both at the same time.
5. Use technology aids
When going on longer trips or using a route you are not very familiar with, use GPS guides and maps where possible. Using such devices can help you anticipate stops and turns before you get there, reducing the chances of errors that could lead to accidents.
6. Know about your medication
You should be aware of all the possible adverse effects of any drug you use. For some medication such as opioids, pain killers and some anti-allergy drugs, the user is advised to stay away from driving and operating machinery. This is so because they cause drowsiness, and weakness and could lead to a rslower response time.
7. Keep safe driving distance
Always ensure that there is enough space between your vehicle and the one right in front of you. This will give you adequate time to react when there are issue of brake failure.
8. Limit your distractions
Although some people prefer to drive with some music on in the vehicle, however, if that is a source of distraction to you, then you don’t have to. For those who love to, ensure to reduce the volume so you can hear when another road user attempts to hoot or when your vehicle makes funny sounds .
As more adult drivers go on to use the roads, it is expected that the total number of vehicle drivers will go up. But then, there wouldn’t have to be a corresponding rise in deaths and injuries if more people learn to follow the basic rules of road travel. Drive safely.