Aging Drivers – when is it time to stop?
Older drivers often get a bad rap. It is true that those 82+ have the most accidents of any age group other than those aged 16 – 19, and up to five times as many fatalities result from those accidents. But a new editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) debunks some of the ageism and prejudice that exists around senior drivers.
While the rates of accidents among the oldest drivers is higher than average, those accidents tend to happen at slower speeds and do not tend to involve alcohol or other intoxicants. As a result, seniors tend to only be a hazard to themselves and not other drivers. Also, seniors seem to be more honest than teenaged drivers and are more likely to report the accidents that they are in, so in fact, the data available may not accurately reflect the full story.
The CMAJ editorial suggests moving to a graduated licensing system, similar to the one in place for new drivers, that would limit time of day for driving, highway speeds etc. for drivers after they reach a certain age or level of health. CARP, the Canadian Association for Retired People, supports this move.
As we age, we do experience physical changes that can affect our driving ability, even if we are otherwise healthy. Hearing loss, failing eyesight and slower reflexes are some of those changes. It is important to pay attention to your body as you age – use corrective eyeglasses or contact lens if required or one of the varieties of hearing aids available.
Driving the right car can make a big difference to your comfort while at the wheel. Power steering and brakes, and an automatic transmission make the car much easier to handle as we lose arm strength and coordination. Cars have also gotten smaller over the decades so a newer model may be easier to handle than its equivalent from the 70s or 80s. Keeping the vehicle well maintained is also essential.
A good rule of thumb is if a situation makes you uncomfortable while driving, don’t do it. That could mean avoiding driving at night or in inclement weather. It might mean taking the slightly longer route that doesn’t involve the highway. Avoid other distractions like cell phones and loud music and be sure to leave adequate distance between you and the driver in front of you.
There are 3 million senior drivers in Canada currently and that number is expected to double by 2040. Those 80+ are the fastest growing segment of the driving population. CARP recommends other changes that could make driving safer as we age. Better street lighting and easier to read road and directional signs in fact would make driving easier for the entire population.
In Ontario, those over 80 must renew their driver’s licenses every two years. This involves a fee, a vision test, a written test and a 90-minute group session on the rules of the road. But what if you decide it’s time for you to stop driving? There are many benefits to living a car free lifestyle. You save money, may become healthier and more fit as those without cars tend to walk more, and life takes on a slower pace.
The car for many of us is, in our minds, the key to our independence. The idea of doing without one at an older age when perhaps we are facing other mobility issues is the equivalent to giving up our freedom. But sometimes due to failing health or other concerns, it is time to stop driving. There are options out there to still live a full and active life without a car. If public transit isn’t available, many seniors groups and centres offer ride-sharing programs that help get people out and about. Perhaps a motorized scooter or wheelchair would be helpful if walking great distances is a challenge.
If you need to talk to someone about their driving and they have perhaps reached the time when it would be safer for them to put away their car keys, remember to be understanding of the full picture of what the car represents. Be specific with your examples as to why giving up the car is the best choice and offer alternatives for their transportation needs.
There are options to both extend the driving years of healthy seniors and alternative transit for those deciding to give up the car.