The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), together with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other groups, recently launched a new campaign to increase awareness of safety concerns regarding older drivers.
The groups acknowledged that while many motorists “can drive safely into their nineties,” others can begin to experience health problems as they age that can interfere with their ability to drive safely.
Tips to Help Keep Older Drivers Safe on the Road
To help keep more older drivers safe, the NHTSA and its partners encourage drivers and their families to begin a “transportation plan” as individuals reach and pass retirement age. They suggest beginning with a review of any health and medical conditions that may affect the individual’s ability to drive.
“Ask yourself, or the older driver in your life: Can you remember the routes you frequently drive? Do traffic signs and signals, or other motorists make you feel overwhelmed while driving?”
Certain medications, too, can impair judgment or affect reflexes or alertness. Ask your primary doctor or pharmacist if there is any reason for concern.
Next, the NHTSA notes that many vehicles can be modified to accommodate an older driver’s specific needs. A hand control or a pedal extender that makes it easier to operate the vehicle may be helpful for those with movement difficulties in their legs. A swivel seat can help a driver get in and out of the vehicle, as can an extra handle placed on the door.
Finally, the NHTSA reminds consumers that vehicle manufacturers have improved their driver assistance technologies and that a newer car may be safer for an older driver. Automatic braking, backup cameras, and blind-spot detectors can all help ensure a driver’s safety on the road.
The NHTSA offers free educational resources for older drivers and their caretakers on its website.
Older Drivers At Risk on the Road for Unique Reasons
According to several safety groups, older adult drivers face increased risks on the road. The CDC notes that in 2018, almost 7,700 older adults (aged 65 and older) were killed in traffic crashes, and more than 250,000 were treated in emergency departments for crash injuries. “This means that each day, more than 20 older adults are killed and almost 700 injured in crashes,” the CDC stated.
According to a 2015 study, older drivers, particularly those 75 and older, have higher crash death rates than middle-aged drivers (aged 35-54). The AAA adds that though senior drivers are often safe drivers— since they typically observe speed limits, wear safety belts, and refrain from drinking and driving—they are more likely to be injured or killed in traffic crashes due to age-related vulnerabilities.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) states that the number of drivers age 70 and older is growing, as older people make up a bigger proportion of the population than they used to, and their share continues to grow. The good news is that despite their growing numbers, older drivers are involved in fewer fatal collisions than in the past, with numbers declining over the past couple of decades.
The IIHS adds that specific physical, cognitive, and visual abilities may decline with advancing age in some people, and these declines can increase their risk of being involved in a crash.