Maintaining the ability to drive is crucial to most senior’s quality of life. It helps them to stay connected to people in their respective communities. Being able to drive is an indispensable part of maintaining social ties while also having constant access to all services needed. Losing one’s ability to drive either voluntarily or for any other reason can have an adverse impact on a senior’s health. It puts them at risk for anxiety and depression.
Seniors who lose their driving capabilities face a higher risk of being moved to a long-term care facility. It increases their risk for isolation as it makes a senior more prone to loneliness because they will likely leave the house less often.
In other words, losing the ability to drive may also mean losing one’s independence. This is true especially if the senior is living alone and no family members are living in close proximity.
There are 14 million licensed drivers aged 65 years old or older, says the Federal Highway Administration. Of course, age is not a determining factor whether you are a bad driver or not. However, there are some physical limitations on elderly drivers. These limitations make driving, a daunting task for elderly adults.
The good news is that automakers and aftermarket manufacturers are introducing more and more features and products that assist drivers and make driving safer and easier!
For many seniors, driving is a necessity. There are times seniors may need to realize the need to hang up the keys and finally give up driving for good. Data shows the number of accidents increases when people reach the age of 65, and fatal accidents increase by age 75.
As we age, driving is a symbol of independence. As kids become teenagers, driving represents the ability to do things on their own. The same remains to be true to older adults. Elderly people drive with plenty of risks. Even if the elderly reduce the amount of time driving or giving up the keys; independence should not be diminished. The key here is to know what assistive devices and car features can be used to make driving safer and less stressful to people.
Alternatives to Self-Driving Cars
Self-driving cars are still a few years away but until then, here are some very helpful products that will make driving a lot easier for aging seniors.
Handybar Car Aid
Handybar Car Aid is a device that helps elderly to get in and out of the car easily. This handybar car aid is designed to help reduce a senior’s risk of falling. It provides great amount of leverage especially among seniors who find sitting or standing from inside of the car or into the car too difficult. The tool is inserted into a U-shaped striker plate on the vehicle door frame. It can be used in the side doors of both the driver and passenger. It supports weight for up to 350 pounds. Its added features such as seatbelt cutter and window breaker are helpful in cases of emergency.
Sun Zapper Glare Shield
Elderly people may have a problem with vision when there’s too much glare. And, such problem may spell danger especially when they’re driving. The Sun Zapper Glare Shield helps in keeping the glare out of the senior’s eyes. This tool attaches easily to the existing car visor and has a special shield (thus the name) to zap out the glare from the sun coming into the car.
Panoramic Rearview Mirror
With this tool, the 20/20 Panoramic Rearview Mirror, blind spots are effectively reduced. This tool can be easily installed over the existing rearview mirror. It works great for seniors with existing neck troubles or injuries. It helps them look over their shoulders with ease.
Sheepskin Seat Belt Cover
The seat belt is one of the leading safety devices one can have in the car. But, it is far from perfect. There are other issues that one can encounter when using a seat belt. The Sheepskin Seat Belt Cover helps in preventing chafing on the neck and shoulders. The seat belt may rub against the skin, which can be especially damaging to the elderly. The product comes in eight colors to best match the colors in one’s car.
Power Transfer Seat
The Power Transfer Seat enables the one sitting to rotate up to 90 degrees, which makes moving in and out of the car easier. The seat can be installed on both sides of the car. The tool fits most vehicles including minivans.
Getting in an out of a car is the biggest challenge for seniors. There are some car makers who are designing cars that are senior friendly. With the new cars, getting in and out can be easier. The challenge is how to make driving easier for seniors with older cars.
Padded Swivel Seat Cushion
We have to admit, getting in and out of a car can be sometimes a dread to seniors. A cushion can be a simpler way for seniors to get in and out. The Padded Swivel Seat Cushion is perfect for people with mobility struggles or those with hip injuries or problems. The padded seat is about 15 inches and is able to turn 360 degrees.
Seat Belt Strap Adjuster
The seat belt strap on your shoulder can be annoying. It is best to have some tool to keep the strap where it should be. The Seat Belt Strap Adjuster makes it possible to adjust the strap where it should be—in between one’s neck and shoulder.
Foot Pedal Extensions
Pedals are necessary in the operations of a vehicle. There are times that seniors may not be able to reach the pedals properly. The use of extensions is one great solution to this problem. Foot Pedal Extensions allow seniors to reach the pedals. At the same time, it will put the senior at a safe distance upon airbag deployment in an emergency situation. The tool is made from a non-skid surface and the extension ranges from one to four inches.
Get Help from Occupational Therapist
Different factors of aging can make it challenging for you to drive. If you are not certain about whether you are still physically fit to drive, ask help from an occupational therapist. An occupational therapist will help you assess which part of your body has issues that could affect your driving skills and how you can work together to overcome it.
You are most likely to have problems with driving if:
- Your neck hurts everytime you look over your shoulder whenever you need to change lanes. With this neck pain, you find it hard to look left and right when scanning the road.
- You experience pain in your leg each time you move your leg from the gas to the brakes or vice versa.
- Your arms are no longer strong or quick enough to turn the wheel as fast as you need to.
- Your reaction time is no longer as quick as before.
- Looking at traffic, road signs and people crossing the road – all at the same time has become a challenge for you.
Occupational therapists can give you suggestions on the best exercises that will help you overcome these challenges in driving. If you have just been through a stroke or surgery, occupational therapists can also help you in developing a plan in order for you to recover quickly and get back to driving again.
Obtaining clearance from an Occupational Therapist or Rehabilitation Specialist will give assurance to your loved ones that you are capable of driving again. These professionals will also give you advice on what strategies to use so that you can improve your driving skills. They can also make assessments on how long you are able to continue driving. These occupational therapists can also give you advice regarding the best assistive devices that you can use for your car to make driving a lot easier for you.
You may check out the website of The American Occupational Therapy Association if you’re looking for an occupational therapist or rehabilitation specialist. It is best to look for someone who has Special Certification in Driving and Community Mobility.
Debunking the “Seniors are More Dangerous Drivers” Myth
Data from Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) revealed that in Montana, teenage drivers were found to be involved in more deadly car accidents compared to elderly drivers. Moreover, results from a research conducted by the RAC Foundation showed that even though drivers aged 75 and above account for 6 percent of the population of license holders, they were found to only account for 4.3 percent of all serious injuries and fatal road accidents.
In fact, researchers from the Institute of Advanced Motorists and RAC Foundation believe that senior drivers are as safe as younger drivers. However, according to them, there are also exceptions. For example, in places where there are high-speed junctions and dual carriageways, seniors do struggle. The same thing is true in locations where there are slip-roads and high-speed roundabouts. These locations warrant drivers to make quick responses and quick decisions and these are things that many elderly drivers find too challenging. But, when it comes to driving everywhere else, senior drivers were found to be just as good as anybody else.
It is important to note that not all seniors are vulnerable to road accidents. Another important thing to keep in mind is that not all seniors are unsafe drivers. Luckily, there are ways to help seniors overcome some challenges that they have in driving. One of these is to make use of assistive devices that will help make driving a lot easier for them despite these challenges.
What States are Doing to Promote Safety Driving among Seniors
To be able to address these problems that the elderly drivers face, 33 states in the U.S., have come up with laws or provisions and some of these are the following:
Accelerated Renew Frequency – this provision requires less time for seniors to renew their licenses. Instead of renewing every eight years, some states require that seniors renew every four years.
Online and Mail Renewal Restriction – some states such as Alaska, restrict seniors aged 69 and above to renew their license online or through mail. They are required to be physically present at the Division of Motor Vehicle whenever they need to renew their license.
Vision and Road Tests – some states have mandated a stricter policy regarding road and vision tests for seniors renewing their driver’s license.