On a warm, sunny day in July, nine people were killed and several injured when an 86-year-old man drove his car through a crowded farmer’s market in Santa Monica, Calif. The driver, George Russell Weller, was charged with several counts of vehicular manslaughter, reigniting the debate about whether older adults can drive safely as they age.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, fatal crash rates among older drivers begin increasing between the ages of 70 to 74 and are the highest among those drivers 85 and older.
While driving as you age can be a great way to maintain your independence, it also can be deadly if you don’t take the right precautions. Stay safe behind the wheel with these safe driving tips for older adults.
Watch Your Health, Not Your Age
It is widely assumed when someone reaches a certain age, he or she should hang up the car keys. However, according to the National Institutes of Health, that’s simply not true. What makes an older driver more prone to accidents is the state of his or her health, not age.
Changes in your vision, hearing abilities and physical abilities can be a red flag. Also, medications for certain conditions can affect your cognitive ability and reaction time, making it dangerous to drive.
To keep driving safely, have your vision checked every one to two years and if you have trouble seeing in the dark, limit your driving to daytime hours. Keep your windshield, mirrors and headlights clean, and if you need to, increase the brightness on your instrument panel.
Also, have your hearing checked every three years and make sure to keep the inside of your car quiet if you have trouble hearing.
Take Care of Your Physical Health
Though you may not realize it, driving a vehicle requires some degree of strength and agility. You need to be able to properly press down on the brake and gas pedals and be able to turn your body to see objects around you.
If you’re experiencing stiff joints or weakened muscles, speak with your doctor about exercises you can do to reduce symptoms. Try exercises that are designed to improve flexibility and strength.
Be Prepared for an Emergency
Make sure your car is equipped with an emergency kit. It should include:
- A cellphone
- First aid kit
- Flashlight, flares and a white flag
- Jumper cables
- A jack for changing a tire
- A change of clothes, water, snacks and paper towels
- Extra windshield washer fluid
Being mindful of your physical limitations as well as any other health conditions that could affect your ability to drive can help you recognize a potential issue before it becomes a problem and keep you and other drivers safe.