Older Drivers At Risk of Crash
Getting older doesn’t necessarily make you a bad driver. But minor changes in your body do take place and you or your caregivers should know what to look for in relation to driving skills.
As you age your joints may get stiff and your muscles may weaken. What that means for drivers, is that it may become more difficult to turn your head to look around or to quickly maneuver a steering wheel or brake safely and quickly. Experts suggest you use an automatic transmission, power steering and brakes, and large mirrors. Obviously, keeping physically active including stretching, yoga, muscle building and endurance is important to keep young, strong, and flexible.
Eyesight should be checked every two to four years between the ages of 40 and 64 and more often if you are 65 or older. Cataracts may need to be removed and if glasses are prescribed, you should wear them. Cut back on night driving if you have having trouble seeing in the dark. It is suggested to have your hearing checked. Keep the radio down to hear sirens. That is a good recommendation, no matter what your age. Use your hearing aids if they are prescribed and always keep an eye on the dashboard and the warning lights. In terms of medications, do not take any that contain a warning about feeling drowsy or lightheaded or less alert than usual when you are driving. People tend to take and be prescribed more medications as they age so please read the warning labels. If you are in doubt about driving in bad weather, rain, or snow simply do not go out or look for a safer route avoiding interstates. Taking a driver refresher course may not be a bad idea and could lower your insurance bill.
Lastly, know when it is time to give up driving. If others are honking at you on the road or you are involved in fender benders, if you get lost on roads or cars seem to come out of nowhere. If you get lost and have family members worried about your driving – it may be time to turn the wheel over to someone else. Some Area Agency on Aging services offer rides. Call 800-677-1116 or www.eldercare.gov to find the nearest office.
Occupational Therapy and Elder Drivers
A new study from the University of Florida suggests occupational therapists can help determine who makes the best drivers among the elderly. The researchers looked at records from the 2005 Florida Traffic Crash Records Database. 5,345 driving crashes were analyzed with the average age of the older drivers at 76.08 years. 54.3 percent were males. What they found was that older female drivers were more likely to have crash-related injuries (44%) than male drivers (29%).
The research makes it easier to classify violation by the types of driving errors, which is useful for occupational therapists and lawmakers. Researcher, Sherrilene Classen, an assistant professor at the University of Florida in the occupational therapy department, says the patterns of driving performance of older adults should be reviewed by occupational therapy practitioners.
Crash-related injuries were 50 percent more likely in crashes involving errors in lane maintenance and in judgment in choosing the appropriate time and spacing distance to cross in front of oncoming traffic. Speed regulation errors were a 34 percent probability of crash-related injuries, and vehicle positioning errors (25 percent), as well as adjusting to stimuli errors (21 percent).
Classen gives an example.
A driver who fails to obey a traffic control device may be having trouble with judging a gap, whether it’s the appropriate safe time and/ or space to cross in front of oncoming traffic. Driving ability tests may someday be able to rely on using performance skills testing, activity demands, or contextual demands in determining driving error. Occupational therapy practitioners can play a major role in identifying drivers at risk through appropriate screening and driving evaluation and rehabilitation. Some drivers may have to stop driving as a result of interventions and others can benefit from remedial assistance to optimize their driving skills.
The study appears in the March/April issue of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy.