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Elderly Drivers — When Safety Becomes An Issue.

Elderly Drivers — When Safety Becomes An Issue.

Elderly driving is a sensitive topic. It is a very sensitive topic for many families dealing with elderly relatives. We all value our independence and freedom. Driving is a key part of living independently. Yet, the topic has been on my mind lately. I have been preparing two car accident cases for trial involving serious crashes caused by elderly drivers. In one, the elderly driver crashed into five separate cars on a highway in Huntsville. She should have stopped driving long before the car crash.

I understand the difficulty in talking to our elderly loved ones about their driving. How do you tell your parents or grandparents it may be time to consider driving alternatives (or giving up their keys completely)? I’ve had those conversations with several elderly relatives. Many of my elderly relatives live in and around Decatur, Alabama. One by one, we have had the conversations necessary to prevent them from hurting themselves or someone else on our roads.

How does aging affect safe driving? The aging process can affect safe driving in many ways. Here are a few:

  • Stiff Joints And Muscles. At our law firm, we help injured people. So, we often see younger people who have suffered serious orthopedic injuries to their shoulder, neck or back. Many of these individuals (even younger ones) are left with body parts that simply don’t move as well. Driving, especially long distances, can become difficult. Many older individuals suffer joint and muscle stiffness as part of the aging process. It may get a little harder to sit for long drives. It may get a little harder to turn and see other cars on the road. Safe driving does not require perfect health. But, you must be able to move sufficiently to see and react on the road.
  • Dementia / Alzheimer’s Disease. Unfortunately, many elderly people continue driving despite significant problems with dementia or alzheimer’s disease. Patients with these conditions may easily get lost or confused.
  • Slowed Reaction Times. Drivers must react quickly to changes in traffic or roadway conditions. How often have you been required to act suddenly due to a stopping car, sudden roadway condition or a vehicle that veered close to you? As we age, our reaction times can slow. This may create additional safety risks on the roadway, especially roads that are congested.
  • Trouble Seeing. Some people begin to suffer vision issues as they age. Sometimes, these issues simply require us to modify a driving behavior. For example, some people experience problems seeing at night. They can avoid nighttime driving. Other people experience a loss of vision that makes driving a dangerous activity at any time.
  • Trouble Hearing. Hearing is important to driving safely. The siren of approaching emergency vehicles. The sudden screech of brakes nearby. The sound of a horn warning you. Hearing plays an important part in roadway safety, especially on busy roads and highways.

What are some safety tips for elderly drivers? Many elderly drivers can take concrete steps to maintain their safe driving. I have included a few important safety tips for elderly drivers below:

  • Review Your Medications. Some medications dull our perception or reaction to events. Some medications react with other drugs to cause issues. Drug interactions can create safety issues. Everyone should be aware of medication issues.
  • Drive In Good Conditions. Have your senses, movements or reactions slowed due to age? That does not mean you must automatically stop driving. For many elderly drivers, safety means avoiding congested highways, driving during daylight hours or not driving in heavy rain when heightened awareness and reaction times are needed.
  • Plan Your Travel Routes. If conditions or traffic create issues, plan ahead. If memory has begun to be an issue, plan ahead. With proper planning, dangerous issues can be minimized. And, many elderly drivers can continue to enjoy the independence of driving.
  • Drive With Extra Caution. This is a given. All of us must drive with caution. For elderly drivers with slowed perception or reaction times, even greater caution is needed. That means such things as creating more distance between vehicles.
  • Avoid Distractions. Everyone should avoid distractions while driving. Yet, elderly drivers can be distracted by things that may not impact younger drivers. My former (now retired) law partner is an example. As he aged, he began to lose his hearing. He was fine in normal conversation. However, he had problems with multiple people speaking at once. Because of that, the radio became distracting to him.

Should You Be Concerned About An Elderly Driver? Do you have an elderly relative who continues to drive? What issues should concern you? Here is a list of issues to consider.

  • Multiple Car Crashes / Dents / Scrapes
  • Trouble Seeing Signs, Signals and Markings
  • Problems Getting Lost On Familiar Routes
  • Recommendations From A Doctor Related To Driving
  • Problems Responding To Unexpected / Sudden Situations
  • Trouble Or Confusion Using The Pedals
  • Increasing Problems With Distraction Or Concentration
  • Physical Problems Causing Difficulty Moving In, Out Or Around The Car

All of us value our independence. Driving is a big part of that independence. We also have a responsibility to our elderly relatives as well as everyone else on the highway. If you have questions, call us. We have years of experiencing handling car accident and other personal injury cases. We believe lawyers should also take an active part in discussing safety within our communities. Many of our blog posts involve important safety topics.