As your parents get older, you might worry about their ability to stay safe when driving. Aging can make driving riskier for two reasons. First, it reduces our ability to drive well. Second, it reduces our ability to survive a crash.
The proof is in the numbers. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) figures for 2018 showed that almost 5,000 older adults needed emergency treatment after car crashes each week, and nearly 150 died each week.
How does aging affect driving ability?
Old age affects our ability to do certain things:
Seeing: Good vision is essential to safe driving. Glasses can help up to a point, but some people’s eyesight may deteriorate to where it is no longer safe to drive.
Hearing: Our ears help us detect what is happening around us. Hearing children’s laughter reminds us to slow down. Hearing an impatient driver’s horn alerts us to get out of someone’s way.
Thinking: Age can affect mental sharpness and cause slower decision-making. Driving requires fast decisions.
Reacting: Once you have made a decision, your brain needs to send the signals to your body to take the necessary actions. For example, you see a motorist step on their brakes in front of you. First, you weigh up whether you need to brake. If you decide you do, you need to lift your foot off the gas and press the brake. Split seconds matter when driving, and taking longer to react increases your collision risk.
If your elderly parent is injured in a crash, it does not mean they were at fault. While a younger person might have avoided a collision in the same situation, you need to look at what the other driver did that made avoidance necessary.|