Senior citizens should be under stringent retesting in order to retain driving privileges. In the United States persons over the age of 65 are considered to fall into the category of senior citizens as this is accepted as the standard retirement age. Many instances of senior citizen involved accidents resulted from increased confusion, slower reaction times, decreased peripheral vision, lessened motor skills and slower cognizance of dangerous situations. A documented number of incidents have led to death as senior citizens become not only hazardous to themselves but innocent bystanders and property within a community as well.
Decreased senses of elderly persons affect their ability to drive responsibly. Vision and hearing are the main two senses that can compromise senior citizens’ ability to drive. Deterioration of vision can increase difficulty when driving at night or during adverse weather conditions such as rain or snow. Peripheral vision and depth perception are affected as one ages and is common among senior citizens as they age.
Many older people find that although their vision is good enough to drive during the day, they must give up night driving because of problems with glare, brightness, and darkness.
The decline in sharpness of hearing starts to affect those around the age of 50 because the auditory nerve starts to change as ear structures begin to deteriorate. Studies also estimate that 30% of all people over 65 have significant hearing impairment and some measure of hearing loss is pretty much inevitable. This change in one’s hearing affects the ability to hear emergency sirens, train whistles, and horns from other vehicles while driving. It is important to be able to hear sirens from emergency vehicles that intend to alert you to pull over or get out of the way of an ambulance.
Age-related changes in the abilities affected by reduced cognition have adverse implications on safe driving. Diminishing reserve capacity causes the ability to handle traffic congestion and busy intersections to become a struggle. Selective attention declines with aging and causes problems screening out irrelevant information in a complex environment so senior citizens find it hard to determine which vehicle or object to pay attention to while driving. Complex judgment diminishes with age and affects the ability to judge distances causing difficulty in merging or changing lanes and yielding to the right of way.
Efficiency in mental rotation declines resulting in difficulty interpreting information obtained from side and rear view mirrors. Senior citizens also become slower to detect, recognize, and respond to stimulus in the environment as processing speed decreases. Switching attention from various sources in the environment such as from mirrors to speedometer to windshield is the most important and declines with aging as well. Reduced physical abilities including reflexes, motor skills and weakening muscles all can all have an effect on a senior citizen’s ability to drive.
Joints become stiffer, muscles become weaker, and past injuries flare up as you age. Stiff joints or weak muscles can make it harder to move quickly. These decreased physical abilities can make it hard for one to turn their head to look for oncoming traffic while turning or merging lanes. Turning the steering wheel quickly and braking safely can all be affected. The ability to turn the steering wheel quickly, to react quickly to changing situations, others cars and people on the road is a must in order to drive safely.
Avoiding accidents and staying safe is done by not only being able to make quick decisions but to react quickly as well. The combination of joint and muscle issues have a strong impact on reaction times and reflexes. Reaction times and reflexes slow over time as the brain and body of a senior citizen ages. In Buffalo, NY there has been a rash of car-into-building accidents including one where a 76-year-old elderly woman crashed her minivan into a restaurant, fatally injuring a couple who were eating dinner inside the restaurant.
Fourteen incidents of senior citizens crashing into buildings in the Buffalo, NY area were reported all within a span of 29 days. The driver’s ages ranged from 59 to 85. Driving over a curb, an 85-year-old woman mistook the gas pedal for the brake and drove into a local bank, striking a natural gas line and causing damage to the building. An hour prior to that incident an elderly woman struck the side of the Walgreen’s pharmacy, again mistaking the gas pedal for the brake. A NHTSA study of 1995 FARS (Fatal Accident Reporting System) data reports that senior citizens accounted for 15% of all people injured in traffic crashes, 13% of all traffic fatalities, 13% of all vehicle occupant fatalities, and 18% of all pedestrian fatalities”(“Older drivers,” n. d. ). “Common violations among senior citizens include failure to obey traffic signals, unsafe turns and passing, and failure to yield the right of way”(Korc, 2009). Some states such as California and Pennsylvania have laws in place in order to address the problem.
California requires retesting for any individual over the age of 70 involved in a fatal crash or three or more crashes within a year. Pennsylvania requires physicians to report any disabilities that may affect driving ability Once drivers reach the age of 65 hours reassessment of driving ability needs to be done more frequently in order to keep up with the rapidly changing effects of age. If driving ability is affected laws that limit hours driven per day, distance driven from home, and ability to drive after sunset should be put into play.
Drivers should be required to attend a driver safety course geared towards senior citizens. Topics should include a review of driving laws, any changes of driving laws and regulations, newer features in cars, and how changes in the body and brain can affect driving ability. Most drivers don’t realize that with decreasing height caused by the aging process hand position on the wheel should change as well. “In the next 20 years the number of elderly drivers (persons 70 & over) is predicted to triple in the United States”(“Older drivers,” n. d. ) with over 78 million baby boomers over the age of 65.
Increased incidents such as the recent events of senior citizens driving into buildings in Buffalo, NY are going to happen more often as the baby boomer population increases in age. Realizing that driving ability can change as you age can be the difference in preventing age-related driving accidents. In order to maintain the safety of public roadways and the rest of the driving population, measures such as stringent retesting and awareness campaigns need to be taken in order to prevent such incidents as senior citizens become not only a danger to themselves but those around them on the roadway.