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Safe Driving for Older Citizens

Copyright © 2014 AARP. All rights reserved.

Older drivers are by and large safe drivers. They are more likely to wear seatbelts than younger drivers, and they are not as prone to speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or risk taking. They are not as likely to text or talk on the phone while they drive.

But these are only the most obvious reasons for accidents. And when older drivers are involved in accidents, they are more likely than younger drivers to suffer serious trauma and to die.

Talking about safe driving to an older parent who may have taught you the rules of the road is not easy. But it should happen, and better before an accident than after one.

The reality is that aging changes reaction times, vision, and distance perception. Medications that older people take may affect their driving ability. The label on the pill bottle may warn, “Do not operate heavy machinery while taking this drug,” but some people do not realize a car is the ultimate heavy machinery.

Many older drivers adjust their own driving habits to take account of these changes. They drive less at night, don't go as far from home, and drive more slowly (too slowly, other drivers may complain). Even with these adjustments, older drivers may be at risk not just from their own driving but also from other drivers who create situations that require quick thinking and rapid responses.

Think of how many near misses you have experienced or witnessed as drivers zip through stop signs or make left-hand turns without checking for oncoming traffic.

The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence created a checklist of 29 warning signs for older drivers. You can use the items on the checklist to observe your parent's driving over time and monitor it for a pattern of warning signs and an increase in frequency.

Here are the top ten warning signs that someone shouldn't be driving anymore, culled from the 29 signs:

  • Difficulty turning to see when backing up

  • Riding the brake

  • Signaling incorrectly

  • Parking inappropriately

  • Hitting curbs

  • Failing to notice traffic signs

  • Having trouble navigating turns

  • Moving into the wrong lane

  • Getting confused at exits

  • Confusing the gas and brake pedals

The last item on the list — confusing the gas and brake pedals — is frequently cited as the cause of serious accidents involving older drivers, often resulting in injury to pedestrians and property damage. If you see any of these signs (or even if you don't so far), a conversation about safe driving makes sense.

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