According to the National Institute of Health, the rate of crashes among adults 65 and over has decreased in recent years. Research suggests that this decline is due to a number of factors, including older adults’ better health, safer cars, and safer roads. In addition, older drivers’ ability to “police” themselves — like not driving at night – and stricter state laws for renewal of driver’s licenses may help.
Most traffic deaths of older drivers occur during the daytime, on weekdays, and involve other vehicles. Older adults are more susceptible to death or serious injury in a crash if they are physically frail, but the good news is that older people are more likely to survive crashes than in the past.
Here are some steps you can take to stay safe on the road:
- Exercise regularly in order to increase your strength and flexibility.
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review your medications-both prescription and over-the-counter.
- Have your vision checked every year.
- Drive during daylight and in good weather.
- Find the safest routes with well-lit streets.
- Plan your route before you drive.
- Leave a large following distance behind the car in front of you.
- Avoid distractions in your car, such as listening to a loud radio, texting or talking on the phone.
- Consider potential alternatives to driving, such as riding with a friend or using public transport to get around.
Evaluate Your Driving Skills
With years of experience behind the wheel, older drivers likely are among the safest on the road. However, skills and abilities required for safe driving do deteriorate with age. The good news is that a few simple actions often can provide older drivers with years of safe driving.
Resources listed below will help you learn more about your abilities to drive safely. They range from self-screening exercises to Assessments by professionals and include a variety of tools that rate everything from driving skills to physical limitations and medical conditions of older drivers:
A 15-question self-rating driving assessment exercise in the booklet at this link is designed to help you examine your driving performance. Answer the questions and score your driving performance.
Professional driving assessments generally fall into two categories: driving skills evaluations and clinical driving assessments. A driving skill evaluation includes an in-car evaluation of your driving abilities and a recommendation regarding any further specialized drivers' training. Clinical driving assessments are used to identify underlying medical causes of any driving performance deficits and offer ways to address them, so driving remains a safe option.
Meredith Sweeney of the American Occupational Therapy Association says that when preparing for a comprehensive driving evaluation, older adults need to present the truest picture of their current functional level. "I recommend making no changes to the older driver's routine, such as medication schedule, sleep pattern, meal intake, etc. prior to the appointment," says Meredith Sweeney, OTR/L, CDI, CDRS. A driving evaluation should measure drivers at their best, so a good night's sleep and healthy nutrition are the best way to prepare. "The older driver should be involved in the scheduling process, as the opportunity to ask specific questions to the occupational therapy driver rehabilitation staff typically decreases anxiety." It is also important for older drivers and their family members to know what will happen at the evaluation, and because every facility is different, that question needs to be asked before making an appointment - See more at: http://www.aota.org/conference-events/older-driver-safety-awareness-week/wednesday-full-article.aspx#sthash.SGOFlL4J.dpuf
Family Conversations – Are You Concerned about an Older Driver?
Despite the declining physical conditions associated with advancing age, research is showing that older persons are successfully adjusting for those age related changes and are driving safely well into their 70s, 80s and 90s.
While many older persons know when to surrender the keys, there are others who continue to drive when they are at-risk. For families, friends and caregivers, the issue of what to do about an aging loved one who is at-risk driving can be both perplexing and paralyzing. Families who have been faced with the dilemma of what to do have often reported taking a year or more to act! Those who have intervened report it as being one of the most difficult things they have ever had to do.
The New York State Office for the Aging has developed a handbook titled "Are You Concerned about an Older Driver?” to help families, friends and caregivers facing the dilemma of what to do when an aging loved one is at-risk driving.
If you would like a printed copy of this handbook, please call the New York State Office for the Aging Help Line at 1-800 342-9871.
You can find out if any drugs you’re taking are affecting your driving abilities by using the online tool Roadwise Rx at http://www.roadwiserx.com/ You can enter the names of your medications and find out if, and how, their interactions could affect driving safety. Any information that you enter in this tool is completely confidential and cannot be viewed by any other party*.
Make sure you have a current and accurate list of all medications and supplements you may be taking. This is helpful to your doctor when you’re visiting and discussing medication options. It’s also good practice to run this list by your pharmacist on a regular basis, to spot any possible negative interactions or indications. The following drugs are notorious for their impact on driving:
- Narcotic pain pills
- Sleep medicines
- Some antidepressants
- Cough medicines
- Muscle relaxers
When your doctor is prescribing a new medication, be sure to ask them about possible side-effects. If the new medication has a caution about driving, talk to your doctor about possible alternatives, or suggestions for how to safely drive while taking that prescription.
Consider Alternate Transportation
If a new medication is known to possibly impair driving, make alternate arrangements for transportation. Ask a friend or loved one for a ride, or contact your local Office for Aging to learn about transportation options for older adults in your area.
If you are involved in an accident that occurred while you were under the influence of certain medications, you should know that you may be prosecuted for DWI, even if you were prescribed the medication by a doctor.
We’ve all heard the adage “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Fortunately, it takes just a few simple precautions to ensure you’re being safe and responsible when you’re driving while medicated.
Learn about adjusting your car to suit your driving
You can enhance your safety while driving by ensuring that your car is properly adjusted for you. A proper fit in one's car can greatly increase not only the driver's safety but also the safety of others.
CarFit is an educational program that offers older adults the opportunity to check how well their personal vehicles "fit" them. CarFit events are held at various locations in communities across the country. At a CarFit event, a team of trained technicians and/or health professionals work with each participant to ensure they "fit" their vehicle properly for maximum comfort and safety. A CarFit check takes approximately 20 minutes to complete.
To find out more about the program, visit: http://www.car-fit.org
Equipment That Can Empower Drivers
According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, physical challenges can often be compensated for by equipment, adding to a driver's safety and confidence. If neck turning is limited or painful, a wide-angle mirror may offer a solution. If foot pedals are harder to manage when diabetic changes have resulted in partial amputation, hand controls can offer a safe alternative.
Examples of adaptive equipment include:
- Low-effort steering: Modification to the power steering system that reduces the effort required to turn the steering wheel, which is helpful for those with painful arthritic shoulders and limited flexibility.
- Ribbon attached to seatbelt: A simple adaptation that allows the driver or passenger to pull the seatbelt across the body without twisting and reaching behind the shoulder.
- Hand controls: Adaptive equipment allowing drivers to control the accelerator and brake functions with their hands.
- Handybar: Removable grab bar that hooks onto the door latch to give the driver something to hang on to when transferring into and out of the vehicle.
- OnStar: Subscription system using wireless and GPS technology to offer navigation services in case the driver becomes lost, emergency services assistance (including an automatic alert to first responders in the event of a crash), and other safety options.
- Extra or extended mirrors: Add-on or replacement mirrors to help broaden peripheral vision and expand the field of view to minimize head turning.
- Swing-out seat: A replacement seat with a swivel base that extends the seat beyond the car threshold so drivers don't have to maneuver around the steering column to get in and out.
- Siren detector: An electronic device that detects the high-decibel sound waves of an ambulance or fire truck and alerts drivers who have a hearing impairment.
- Bioptics: A system in which a small telescope is attached to prescription eyeglasses that allows a driver with very low vision to be able to drive by glancing briefly and intermittently through the special lens. Note: Locate a specially trained low vision specialist trained in bioptics and driver rehabilitation before considering this option. Laws for licensing drivers using bioptics varies by state.
- Tire pressure sensors: Electronic sensors that let the driver know when air pressure is low, which can help prevent a flat tire from a slow leak or loss of vehicular control due to under-inflation. Traction control sensors: Add-ons to an antilock brake system that can improve traction when the driver is accelerating too quickly or on a wet surface.
- Back-up camera: A wireless system that projects the view from the rear of the car onto an LED screen that can be mounted on the dashboard or windshield so the driver doesn't have to turn around to see what is behind the vehicle.
- Seat cushions: Round swivel seat cushions turn 360° to help drivers and passengers rotate in and out of the vehicle. Other types of cushions can help relieve back pain. Safety Alert: Any cushion may also pose a safety risk. The cushion placed on the driver's seat could compress in the event of a crash, creating space that allows the driver to "submarine" or slip forward under the now loose seatbelt.
- Foot pedal extensions: Professionally installed pedal extenders allow better, more comfortable reach of the accelerator and brake pedals without causing the driver to position the seat dangerously close to the steering wheel.
You can find more information about adaptive motor vehicle solutions in this booklet from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
There are online and in-person driver safety courses offered through many companies and organizations.
Here’s the link to DMV insurance reduction program. It lists classroom and online courses offered in NYS. http://dmv.ny.gov/tickets/point-insurance-reduction-program/
Reduce Points on Your Driver’s License and Save Money
In New York State, you can you can reduce up to 4 points from your NYS DMV driving record and receive a 10% reduction of the base rate of your auto and motorcycle insurance premiums each year for three years, by taking an online or in-person defensive driving course.
The Point & Insurance Reduction Program (PIRP) is also known as the Defensive Driving Course or Motor Vehicle Accident Prevention Course. It is a comprehensive driver safety course which provides knowledge and techniques for safe and lawful driving. It is available throughout New York State through private companies or corporations, called "course sponsors," that are approved by DMV. Each course must meet strict standards for the type of information presented and program effectiveness.