Aging and Driving

As we age, there are numerous aspects of life that begin to change, one of which is our ability to drive safely. This does not mean we should stop driving; however, there are things we need to know to make our driving safer. We will look at these various aspects and see how they work together to make driving a safer experience for the aging driver.

Traffic Violations Common to Aging Drivers
The types of traffic violations committed differ among the different age groups of drivers. People in the 55 or older age group tend to commit the following violations:

  • failure to yield right-of-way
  • improper turns
  • improper lane changes, and
  • improper entering/leaving freeway

Drivers in younger age groups commit different traffic violations.
The most frequently committed violations of younger drivers include:

  • driving under the influence
  • reckless driving
  • speeding, and
  • tailgating

Physiological Changes That Affect Driving

By age 50, the eye is able to "see" only half as much light as at age 20. This means that, as we age, it becomes increasingly difficult to see well a night. Cataracts often occur during aging. Cataracts scatter the vision in the eyeball and can create a veiling glare, which hampers vision. The loss of focusing ability during aging also causes people to hold things farther away so they can see them. Another problem that may occur with age is macular degeneration, a decrease of central vision. The onset of glaucoma can cause the loss of peripheral and up-and-down vision and can cause tunnel vision. Spots or floaters in the eye can cause vision to become clouded.

As we age, hearing can deteriorate. Older people may have difficulty hearing high frequencies. Frequent hearing checks by an audiologist can help diagnose hearing problems.

Physical Strength and Bone Mass
Other changes that could affect a driver's ability to drive safely are changes in strength and bone mass. Men lose half of their physical strength by age 60. Women lose half of their bone mass by age 70 thus making them more susceptible to injury.

Safe Driving Tips For The Aging Driver
Older drivers should use the following tips to make their driving experience safer:

Have more frequent eye exams to keep up with changes in vision
Have more frequent audiological exams to keep up with changes in hearing
Increase the distance between their vehicle and the vehicle in front of them
Avoid looking at oncoming lights at night
Keep windshields and lights clean for better visibility
Use car mirrors more often to maintain traffic awareness
Avoid fatigue on long trips by taking a break at least every 100 miles
Avoid driving at dusk and during rush hour
Avoid smoking
Always wear a seat belt, even if the car is equipped with an airbag. Seat belts can double your chances of surviving a serious crash
When purchasing an automobile, older drivers should consider that:
lighter-colored cars can be seen 2 to 4 times better at a distance; and
larger cars tend to be more comfortable and safer.

Statistics show that persons over age 55 take an average of seven medications per day. This includes both over-the-counter and prescription medications. Drivers should be aware of the effects that medications can have on their driving. They should talk to a doctor, pharmacist, or health care professional to make sure they know any potential side effects of medications. This is the first step to ensuring medications do not impair driving ability. Above all, drivers should avoid using alcohol when taking medications. Alcohol can enhance or lessen the effects of the medicine and cause other side effects. All drivers, regardless of age, should avoid using alcohol when operating any type of vehicle. Never drink and drive!

Resources: TDI Publications

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