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Health Concerns that Impair Driving Ability in Older Adults

Updated on July 1, 2013

Car Steering Wheel

Average stering wheel on a car
Average stering wheel on a car | Source

Automobile Safety

As much as we try we cannot fight aging forever; our bodies and minds will eventually show signs of the years that we have lived. Even though we can’t run as fast or think as quickly as we could, when we were younger, there is nothing “wrong” with us or the way we live our lives.

One common thing that can deteriorate is how we perform as operators of motor vehicles. As we age our eye sight starts to get a little bit fuzzy, our reaction times become a little bit lagging and we might not be as safe as we used to be back in the day.

Elderly Drivers

We have all seen the elderly driver struggling to make a turn or probably driving a little bit too slow for our liking on the freeway. It seems that some elderly drivers have reached a point in their driving careers that certain situations can be very uncomfortable for them.

For many years I couldn’t figure out why my parents went a certain way to our house when we used to live in Sacramento, California. They always told us their way was quicker but the real reason slipped out one day, they hated the freeway interchange right before our off-ramp.

This information caught me off guard a little bit because my dad used to drive tractor trailers when he was a teenager and continued into his twenties; he is also a wiz with directions. My parents weren’t old (both were in their fifties) but their discomfort with the freeway was very obvious.

A more exaggerated example of this uneasiness is my wife’s grandma, she is in her seventies. For the last few years she has refused to drive at night, even as a passenger. We don’t know if it is the darkness or the car lights, because she is a strong woman and won’t tell any of us, but she will leave a family function early just to ensure that she is home safe before the sun goes down.

Defensive Driver

I’m a big advocate of defensive driving and it is something that I am strongly pushing our driving age son to embrace.

When we age our bodies don’t do things as fast as we might want them to, this sluggishness has to carry over to the driver’s seat of a vehicle. Everyone has been in that dangerous situation where an evasive maneuver needs to be made to avoid an accident. If a driver is older that response time might be too slow to get away from a bad situation.

Bad Driving

Do you think we become bad drivers as we get older?

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Human Reaction Time

Do you remember that weird exam when you were a kid where the doctor tapped your knees with a rubber hammer to test your reflexes? I do because I had to always fake it because the doctors never seemed to get the right spot to get my leg to react. I knew nothing was wrong with me because my reflexes worked just fine but I didn’t want the doctor to think something on me was out of whack.

When we age our reaction time starts to slow down and can be an issue on the road. Just like trying to be a defensive driver having a respectable reaction time to split second problems on the road is critical.

You never know when that truck in front of you is going to blow a tire or something runs in front of you and you have to swerve to avoid a collision. A diminishing reaction time can lead to a fender-bender or something much worse.

Eye Examinations

A typical eye chart for eye examinations
A typical eye chart for eye examinations | Source

Visual Problems

Our eyes can also give us fits as we age. Your vision might have always been 20-20 but now you have to squint to see a highway sign or read the newspaper. It isn’t fun to acknowledge that you might need glasses but sometimes it just is what it is.

I remember when my mom had to get glasses many years ago; she was not happy and had no reservations sharing her displeasure about needing them. She didn’t need them all of the time, just for reading and driving; my dad has worn glasses for as long as I can remember.

I have pretty good eye sight and I hope to keep my good vision for as long as I can.

Vehicle Insurance Companies

I remember how much my car insurance was when I first started driving; those memories came back recently when I called my insurance company to see how much our premium was going to go up with our son working on getting his license.

I can also recall the conversation I had with my agent when I turned twenty-five. I called them to get that break I heard so much about when you hit this magical age of twenty-five. I can fondly remember the agent telling me that the company didn’t price policies based on age, yeah right. After additional conversation I knew that they did take a drivers age into consideration (big shocker) but the company just didn’t really go out of their way advertising it. Needless to say I was thrilled when our renewal came in the mail and the policy went down.

It is a widely accepted fact that younger drivers pay more for car insurance because they don’t have the best of experience yet and are a high risk for accidents and seeing how fast the car can really go (no officer I didn’t see the speed limit sign).

How long, if they don’t already, until insurance agents start charging elderly drivers a little bit more because if the increased liability of them behind the wheel? I recognize that they have been driving for a very long time but things have changed since they first obtained that driver’s license.

Before you react negatively to that last paragraph remember the insurance industry already does this for younger drivers. They also do charge higher premiums for our older citizens, if you don’t believe me check to see what health insurance costs for someone in their sixties.

I’m not condoning it, I have my own opinions on our healthcare industry, but it does happen. My parents are a perfect example since they are both in their sixties. Both have had health issues over the years but nothing too crazy. Before my dad became eligible for Medicare this year they were paying just over fifteen hundred dollars a month for the privilege of being insured. This didn’t cover doctor’s visits or prescriptions. This is a ton of money for two people to pay.

I’m not completely happy with what I pay a month to cover my family of four but it is nowhere near the amount my parents were paying.

Will the insurance industry come to a collective decision that older drivers need to be charged more because of the increased liability with their reduced reaction time and decreasing eye sight? I sure hope not but I imagine they wouldn’t hesitate to do it if the numbers made sense to their executives.

Drivers Education Test

Would you support a recertification test for older drivers?

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DMV Drivers Permit

Here in the US we all had to take a driver’s test as mandated by our state of residence. The test itself isn’t too hard, as evident when we someone making a completely boneheaded maneuver on the road, but it does take some time to study for it.

What I never understood is why there isn’t some kind of follow-up test as we get older? We get our renewal in the mail every few years and then send it back in with the fee as directed. Here in California we don’t even go back to the Department of Motor Vehicles to take a new terrible license photo until about twelve years after your last one. Twelve years is a long time and people can look way different in that time.

I wish we would have a system in place to just double check our licensed drivers; it doesn’t have to be a road test either. Do a quick eye exam and a written test. If the driver performed poorly on the written test maybe that is an indication that they should be tested on the road again?

I had a co –worker who got pulled over for having headphones in both of her ears, they were for her cell phone. She honestly had no idea that it was a no-no but I remember hearing about that back in driver’s education in high school. She tried to tell the officer that the she wasn’t even on the phone but it didn’t matter. After fighting the ticket in front of the judge she still lost and had to pay the fine.

If my co-worker wasn’t aware of this law how many drivers aren’t aware of it, or something more substantial? Refresher tests might help drivers that have forgotten something over the years. I know my wife and I have learned a couple of things from our son when he was studying for his learners permit.

I know I’m not a perfect driver but I would welcome the chance to stay on top of new laws or reminders about existing ones. I hope one day or system is equipped to keep our drivers operating their vehicles as safely as they can, the fewer accidents we have the better.

Motor Vehicle Safety

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    • adjkp25 profile image
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      David 5 years ago from Northern California

      teaches12345 - I spent in year in Phoenix after high school and saw the same down there. I think a good start is when the driver begins to notice they aren't the same driver that they once were.

    • adjkp25 profile image
      Author

      David 5 years ago from Northern California

      ImKarn23 - That is terrible, I hope you are OK after all of those injuries. Your story is a perfect reason why there should be some kind of re-certification test. I hope something can get implemented so people, like you, do not get injured.

    • adjkp25 profile image
      Author

      David 5 years ago from Northern California

      kj force - I agree with your reasons 100%, thanks for commenting and I'm glad you liked it.

    • adjkp25 profile image
      Author

      David 5 years ago from Northern California

      Larry - you make a good point on the vehicle size. My wife's grandma fits your example perfectly. When her husband passed away she was left with this huge tank sized car, I think it is a Mercury something but it is massive. I honestly do not remember the last time I have actually seen her drive it.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Living in South Florida you see a lot more elderly drivers than in any other area. You have to watch out for them as they tend to drive slower, pull out in daring attempts to cross a road, and stop in the middle of a road. Yes, insurance here is higher due to this fact. However, I hope that I keep this in mind as I am heading that way within the next decade.

    • ImKarn23 profile image

      Karen Silverman 5 years ago

      i was hit while driving down a straight road on my motorcycle! The driver was an 84 year old woman and the police came to the hospital the next day to tell me that she would never drive again! I had 7 broken bones, a bruised bladder, and 2 less teeth - and she couldn't see 2 inches in front of her face. HOW was she able to renew her license in the first place? Loved this hub! tweeting/voting..

    • kj force profile image

      kjforce 5 years ago from Florida

      adjkp25...very interesting hub..well researched..I firmly believe in re-certification for elder drivers..due to the fact of changes in the body from medications being taken by people of all ages also..nice job...

    • profile image

      Larry Wall 5 years ago

      Excellent hub and one that everyone over the age of 55 should read. I am 61 but for now have restricted myself to daytime driving. I have cataracts on both eyes. They are too small to remove. They do not affect my day vision, but realy mess up my night vision because of the starburst effect they cause with all the lights.

      One other point about elderly drivers that people should be consider. As a rule women outlive men. As men get older they buy bigger and fancier cars--I guess it is genetic. Anyway, when they pass away, their wives are left with these huge tanks for cars. I see them in the church parking lot trying to maneuver those things. A large car may be safer but a smaller car that is easier to park and maneuver in crowded parking lots may be a better choice when you start getting older. Just a suggestion. I have no evidence to back up suggestion, other than my own observations.

    • adjkp25 profile image
      Author

      David 5 years ago from Northern California

      billy - your comments are always welcome on my hubs, thanks for your insight and thoughts.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It is just common sense my friend; even I can see that, despite the fact that I am approaching that time in life. There is a danger that must be faced and a re-certification test only makes good sense. Well done!

    • adjkp25 profile image
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      David 5 years ago from Northern California

      billy - my mom turned 61 earlier this year. I certainly meant no disrespect when I suggested a re-certification test because I think it will help keep our roads safer. I'm glad you feel one is a good idea too. Thanks for commenting.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Well, this topic will be hitting me close to home in a few years. At 63 I am still a very good driver and I haven't lost any of my ability YET...but that day will come. I just say a very old woman the other day who was having serious trouble staying in her lane while driving....and I told Bev that there really should be a mandatory driving test once you reach a certain age....say 70?? It really is necessary.

      Great hub!

    • adjkp25 profile image
      Author

      David 5 years ago from Northern California

      Amy - thanks, it was a fun one to put together..appreciate the vote.

    • Amy Gillie profile image

      Amy Gillie 5 years ago from Indiana

      An excellent hub on a topic that carries a lot of emotions. Voted up!