Safety Tips for Elderly Drivers: Senior Citizens vs. Teenagers – A Study in Senior Driving Safety
People are seniors at least twice in their life.
People are “seniors” after their final year of education, and again in their mature years of life.
Ironically, these two stages of life can represent very different stages of an individual’s driving career, with each respective stage involving very different concerns about driving capabilities.
Comparing the Seniors (Citizens) and the Seniors (Teenagers)
Unlike the cruising and hot-rodding teenager, senior citizen drivers bring a lifetime of driving experience and knowledge to the automobile table. Stability. Wisdom. Experience. Yet the other side of this coin involves physical and mental related changes that can also impact senior driving ability.
The good news? There are several things senior citizens can do to heighten competence, awareness, and safety behind the wheel – and, perhaps to no one’s great surprise, it’s generally the opposite of what the other type of seniors (hereinafter referred to as “teenagers”) are doing!
General Safe Senior Driving Tips
- Seniors: Avoid high traffic times, particularly the morning, lunch and evening commute shifts. Teens have time restrictions when they first start driving, primarily to avoid the nighttime hours.
- Seniors: Best to limit their trips to places closer to home. A great idea for seniors who typically travel to the same places, i.e., grocery store, church, pharmacy and friends’ homes. On the other hand, teenagers know no boundaries traveling everywhere on the search for, well, only they would know.
- Guidelines state that the standard distance between your vehicle and the car ahead is one car length per every 10 mph you’re traveling. (Example: 40 mph = follow four car lengths.) Increase this distance to compensate for slower reaction times, allowing ample space to brake safely or stop when necessary.
Staying Alert Behind the Wheel
- Distractions are the cause or contributing factor in 25 to 50 percent of all collisions. Limit distracting noise inside the senior’s vehicle including radio, passenger conversation, and cellphone use. There is, however, not much we can do about teens who blast music so loudly that it is shared with the world – even when everyone’s windows are rolled up.
- Loss of hearing means a muting of all traffic sounds. Elderly drivers may experience this hearing decline due to physical aging; teenagers experience the loss with blaring music, cell phone talk and raucous passenger behavior. The latter group needs to compensate by turning everything down a notch or two. The elderly drivers can compensate with a hearing aid or through their vision – consciously watching in their rearview mirrors to check traffic flow while watching for the flashing lights of emergency vehicles.
Visibility Issues to Consider
- Nighttime driving means more limited visibility for all drivers. Rising age eventually impacts reaction times. With both these factors in play, it may be more prudent for seniors to avoid nighttime driving as much as possible. For teens, they’re typically getting ready to go out when the rest of us are coming in.
- Some elderly drivers lose a little height with age. Be sure your driver’s seat is raised high enough for as clear a view of the road as possible. Sit on a small pillow if necessary. The same process should be followed by teens who would need additional assistance to have a clear view over their dashboard.
- Fair weather or not, always having your headlights on can be a good move as it increases your visibility to others.
- Drive on familiar streets. If traveling to an uncommon destination, use a GPS that verbally gives you directions as you drive. Reading directions or reading a map is another unneeded distraction that can contribute to car accidents and collisions.
- Keeping your windshield, headlights and mirror clean are simple and easy ways to improve driver visibility – for all ages.
- Keep windshield wiper blades in proper working condition. Nearly all car manufacturers recommend replacement every six months, but given Florida’s climate and precipitation, Trico, an online wiper blade store, maintains that replacement every nine to twelve months is sufficient. However, driving habits can also affect this timeframe.
- Periodic vision and hearing screenings are always a good idea but become even more important the older we get. Changes in sight and hearing become more dramatic, so shorten the time in-between screenings to keep up with any necessary adjustments. Once a Florida senior reaches 80 years of age, licenses are renewed every 6 years with a mandatory vision test at the Department of Motor Vehicles office.
Consider Using Public Transportation
- Public transportation is a wonderful thing. It’s there when seniors become unsure of their driving abilities; it’s there when teens don’t yet have a car. Regardless, there are options for folks to get around town and good circumstances to exercise these options.
Utilize Car Safety Features
- Florida redefines what it means to be hot, tempting car owners to tint windows for deflection of the sun’s intense rays. It is suggested that elderly drivers who have vision problems should keep window tinting to a lighter shade or not tint at all. Teenagers darken the windows in their cars to follow the latest trend.
- Seniors: Drive a car with an automatic transmission, if possible. With automatic transmissions, fewer things to attend to equals greater focus and alertness on other aspects of senior driving. In most cases, many teens won’t know how to use a manual transmission.
- Always wear a seat belt. It’s, the law. In Florida, all passengers in the front seat must wear a seat belt. Passengers in the back seat 18 and younger must wear a seat belt or otherwise be restraint by a child car seat.
Drive Carefully in Inclement Weather
- The number of collisions goes up in inclement weather, which can be particularly treacherous for both seniors and teens. Whether rain, hail, snowstorms, ice or fog, poorer weather can greatly impair driver vision and hinder car performance. Throw in slower reaction times and driver inexperience, and it becomes safe to say that sometimes it’s just better to stay home to avoid hazardous conditions and courting disaster.
Stay Alert Behind the Wheel
- Approximately 100,000 accidents are caused by fatigued or sleepy drivers. No one should drive if feeling tired, lightheaded or stressed.
- Some medications impair driving skills. Since seniors usually take more than one prescription medication, impairment can be multiplied. Polypharmacy (prescription of multiple prescription drugs) is becoming a growing issue among seniors. Between 1993 and 2010, the number of drivers with three or more drugs in their system has nearly doubled from 11.5 to 21.5 percent. Fortunately, pharmacists put warning labels on prescription bottles to warn of possible impaired driving. And teenagers? It’s usually drugs, not prescribed by a health physician, (and alcohol) that typically causes problems.
Keep Your Skills Sharp
- The driving test: For teenagers, it’s a necessary obstacle to overcome for that sweet ticket to wheels and freedom. For seniors, driving tests can mean savings on car insurance.
- Many organizations like AARP and the American Automobile Association offer online defensive driving courses where seniors don’t have to leave the comfort of their computer chair. This can be an easy way to refresh your safe driving habits and techniques.
- Driving is a decades-long avocation, necessity, sport. As in so many other areas of life, our driving style changes as we get older. Florida recognizes this perhaps more than other states because of their large senior driver population. The state thus offers a variety of programs targeting both seniors and teens to keep Florida roads safer for everyone.
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