According to the Institute on Aging, the American life expectancy has increased significantly over the last century. While only 100,000 Americans lived past the age of 85 in 1900, there were 5.5 million Americans who celebrated their 85th birthdays (and beyond) by 2010. As we live longer, our desire to retain our independence often increases. But our physical and cognitive abilities may start to decline as we grow older, which means seniors often need to take preventative steps to preserve their quality of life.
Driving, for instance, represents total freedom. Whether you’re 16 or 86, being able to provide your own transportation from point A to point B can provide a real sense of pride. But for many seniors, driving can become an obstacle to both socialization and to safety. In 2016, there were nearly 42 million licensed drivers ages 65 and older in the United States. That same year, there were 7,400 senior driver fatalities and 290,000 seniors treated in emergency rooms for car crash injuries.
This presents a harrowing picture, but driving as an older adult can ensure that you’re able to stay mobile and independent for longer–providing that you are deemed a safe and medically sound motorist. If you’re currently in good health and want to stay that way while behind the wheel, there are a few things you can do to reduce your risk of a crash and reassure loved ones you’ll be safe on the road for the foreseeable future.
Take a Defensive Driving Course
Organizations like AAA and AARP offer driver safety courses specifically geared towards motorists over the age of 65. Many of these courses are available both online and in person. Participants obtain a helpful refresher that can have a positive influence on their driving safety and will learn about conditions that often pertain to older drivers, in particular. Not only can these courses decrease your chances of needing a car accident attorney by avoiding future accidents, but you may also be eligible for a discount on your auto insurance upon successful completion.
Choose the Right Automobile
Your skills behind the wheel can have a positive impact on your safety, which is why the senior population is actually comprised of some of the safest drivers around. Experience certainly outweighs youth and beauty when it comes to driving. But as you age, the right choice in car can help to keep you safe, too. When you visit your local car dealership, you should look for vehicles with top safety ratings. Bigger cars are typically safer than smaller ones, of course, but added safety features may be even more important. Power seats, keyless entries, easy-to-grip steering wheels, automatic tailgate closers, auto-braking, lane departure warnings, auto-dimming mirrors, back-up cameras, and other bells and whistles may cost you a little more, but they’ll also provide better peace of mind when out on the road.
Prioritize Appointments With Your Doctor
Another thing seniors can do to stay safe when driving is to make their health and well-being a top priority. Be sure to stay on top of appointments with your general practitioner, eye doctor, and any specialists you may have so that any health changes can be detected and treated early. If your arthritis makes it more difficult to drive or you aren’t seeing road signs as clearly as you used to, you should make an appointment with the appropriate physician right away. You should also have your hearing checked at least once every three years. Don’t discount the important role that pharmaceuticals play in driver safety, either. Statistics show that more than 75 percent of senior drivers report taking at least one medication, but less than one-third of older motorists admit they’re aware of the effect their medications may have on their driving. Talk to your doctor about the risks that come with the medications you take and report any adverse side effects to them immediately, rather than trying to ignore the problem.
Experiencing age related changes can be difficult, even for those of us who don’t theoretically mind growing older. But remember that your ability to drive is not more important than the safety of everyone else around you. By being proactive, you may be able to improve your quality of life on many levels and remain an active and safe driver for many years to come.