08/21/2012 08:00 PM EDT
How Aging Affects Driving
Changes in Driving HabitsWhen people retire, they no longer drive to work. With more leisure time, they may start new activities, visit friends and family more often, or take more vacations. Like drivers of any age, they use their vehicles to go shopping, do errands, and visit the doctor. Driving is an important part of staying independent.
Most people 70 and older have drivers’ licenses. They tend to drive fewer miles than younger drivers. But, they are also keeping their licenses longer and driving more miles than in the past, often favoring local roads over highways. As the overall population ages, there will be more older drivers — especially women drivers — on the road.
A Complex Task
It’s common for people to have declines in visual, thinking, or physical abilities as they get older. As a result, older drivers are more likely than younger ones to have trouble in certain situations, including making left turns, changing lanes, and navigating through intersections.
Common MistakesCommon mistakes of older drivers include
- failing to yield the right of way
- failing to stay in lane
- misjudging the time or distance needed to turn in front of traffic
- failing to stop completely at a stop sign
- speeding or driving too slowly.
Older Drivers and CrashesDriving errors can lead to traffic accidents, injuries, and death. The risk of crashes rises with age, especially after age 75. Studies show that older drivers are more, and less, likely to be involved in certain types of crashes than other drivers. Older drivers are less likely to be involved in crashes related to alcohol use, speeding, and driving at night. But they are more likely to get into crashes
- at intersections (usually in the vehicle that is struck)
- in which the front of one vehicle hits the side of another vehicle
- where the older driver is merging and the other vehicle is traveling faster or is in the older driver’s blind spot
Crashes Down Among Older DriversFortunately, the rate of crashes among adults 65 and over has decreased in recent years. Research suggests that this decline is due to a number of factors, including older adults’ better health, safer cars, and safer roads. In addition, older drivers’ ability to “police” themselves — like not driving at night – and stricter state laws for renewal of driver’s licenses may help.
Most traffic deaths of older drivers occur during the daytime, on weekdays, and involve other vehicles. Older adults are more susceptible to death or serious injury in a crash if they are physically frail, but the good news is that older people are more likely to survive crashes than in the past.