Safe Driving After Age 60
If you are age 60 or older, driving a car might be riskier than you realize.
Research shows that our ability to see moving objects while we ourselves are in motion deteriorates much sooner than our ability to see stationary objects. Age-related eye diseases also can compromise vision, even before we are aware of symptoms.
As we grow older, our driving skills are further challenged because we also lose peripheral vision and our reaction time slows.
Driving Tips for Older Motorists
These tips can help you stay safe on the roadways, especially at night:
Don't use your cell phone while driving. This is a bad idea at any age. But older drivers particularly are slower to react to a driving emergency, even without the distraction of a cell phone.
The risks of talking on the phone while driving are documented in more than 125 studies, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). When reviewing some of these studies in 2000, the Harvard School of Public Health found that cell phones reduce reaction time and performance in older motorists more than in younger drivers.
If you are over 60, your eyesight likely is not as good as it once was. You can improve driving safety with a few simple precautions, such as making sure you turn your head to look both ways at intersections.
Use extra caution at intersections. In a 2007 study, the IIHS found 40 percent of fatal collisions involving elderly motorists occurred at intersections. The most common reason for these crashes was a failure to yield, especially when making a left turn.
Avoid driving on unfamiliar streets at night. The National Safety Council says traffic death rates are three times higher at night than during the day. As aging Baby Boomers continue to take to the roads at night in greater numbers than their parents the risk of fatal crashes is expected to increase substantially.
Even if you wear eyeglasses that seem to work well, you may not be equipped for glare, hard-to-read signs and the other unique challenges of twilight and nighttime driving. For these reasons, you should avoid routes with poor lighting, irregular twists and poor signage.
Assess your driving ability based on reactions of others. Honking horns, worried loved ones, warnings from police and blinding headlights suggest rethinking where and for how long you should drive.
If you are having difficulty, limit yourself to shorter trips, preferably during daylight and when weather conditions are favorable. Keep your car in good repair, plan extra time for travel, stay the recommended distance behind the vehicle in front of you and follow expert advice for driving safely.
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Is Your Eyesight Affecting Your Driving?
The Vision Council has found that many older Americans ignore the need for eye exams. Nearly half of today's seniors have never had a dilated eye exam. Worse, vision screening requirements for elderly drivers are lax in many states.
Following these steps can help you maintain healthy eyes and clear vision, along with a good driving record:
- Have your eyes examined annually. The American Optometric Association recommends annual eye exams for anyone over age 60. Your optometrist or ophthalmologist can make sure your eyes don't show any serious age-related changes such as macular degeneration.
Also, with certain common eye conditions such as presbyopia, your eyeglasses prescription may need more frequent changes to help you maintain optimum eyesight.
- Consider wearing special eyeglasses. Anti-reflective coatings can cut down on glare. Also, lenses developed with wavefront diagnostic technology may be able to reduce halos, starbursts, glare and other problems caused by eye aberrations.
- Reduce your speed when driving at night. As we get older, our pupils get smaller and don't dilate as quickly in the dark. Because of this and other normal age-related changes in the eye, only about one-third as much ambient light reaches your retinas in your 60s, compared with when you were in your 20s.
This loss of light transmittance significantly reduces night vision, which is why you should reduce your driving speed at night to compensate.
- Seek the best care for age-related disease. If you have cataracts, for example, implantation of an aspheric intraocular lens during your cataract surgery may provide sharper vision and better contrast sensitivity than a traditional, spherical intraocular lens.
If you have diabetes, get your eyes examined at least once yearly and closely follow your doctor's recommendations regarding your diet, medications and lifestyle to reduce your risk of diabetic retinopathy, which can cause severe vision loss without warning.
What's at Stake
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 6,512 Americans who died in automobile accidents in 2005 15 percent of all fatalities on the road that year were 65 or older.
That percentage is expected to climb as the number of older Americans increases in the years ahead.
Motor vehicle crashes also are the leading cause of injury in adults between the ages of 65 and 75, and the second leading cause of injury to those 75 or older, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Practicing good driving habits and having regular checkups with your eye doctor can help keep you safer on the roadways and decrease your risk of becoming one of these unfortunate statistics.
Gary Heiting, OD, reviewed this article.
**2011 Florida Aging Road User Survey. Half of the more than 900 respondents were aged 50 to 64, and the other half were 65 or older.
[Page updated February 2014]