With growing life expectancy and more active older adults than ever, America’s driving population is aging. Driving patterns change for older drivers as retirement changes schedules and age related declines in vision, hearing and overall wellness can affect driving skills. While average drivers who are 65 or over are actually more likely to be safe drivers than younger counterparts, with a lifetime of driving experience behind them, some elderly drivers are at risk of increased injuries and fatalities to themselves and others when they are behind the wheel.
How Safe are They?
For the most recent year that data was available, NHTSA reports that 17% of all traffic fatalities in the US involved people 65 and over. This age group accounts for 14% of the total US population. The number of licensed drivers in the US increased a whopping 27% in the past ten years. The NIH reports that elderly drivers are the least likely to be involved in crashes involving alcohol or speeding but are more likely to get into accidents at intersections and when merging, both situations in where other drivers may be going faster and have quicker reflexes.
Safer Road for All
Many engineers, cyclists, pedestrians, and health professionals advocate for Complete Streets. When we think of streets that offer safe access to all users, we often think of motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians. However, the elderly population, who comprise 44.7 million people in the US, need to be considered as well. Whether that means incorporating more speed control devices such as speed humps so that younger drivers don’t speed in areas frequented by slower driving seniors, having longer crossing times for seniors who may be using canes or wheelchairs, or using speed indicator signs to remind elderly drivers of their speeds and ensure they are alert, safer streets for all need to take all ages into account.
Resources for Improved Safety
Hearing, vision, reaction time, and physical changes affect different people at different ages. Ultimately, as the NIH points out, it’s a person’s health, and not their age, that determines their ability to continue driving safely. An elderly person is more likely to suffer from conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, dementia, stroke, or Parkinson’s disease, all of which can affect one’s ability to drive safely. The NIH website features videos of what it’s like to drive with each of these conditions to offer insight to drivers and their family members. It’s important to remember that the most fundamental component of safer roads is safe drivers.