Senior Citizen Couple Driving Their Car



Experts predict that 37 million Americans will be age 65 or older by the year 2020 and at least 90 percent of them will be licensed to drive. More than 187,000 seniors were involved in crashes in 2009 and 5,288 people age 65 and older were killed, according to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Visit to learn all you need to know about senior driver safety and mobility. A site providing families of older drivers with valuable information related to senior mobility challenges and tools to help extend safe driving, and assist in difficult discussions about transitioning from driver to passenger.

To learn more or schedule a presentation, contact the Traffic Safety Lead in your state.

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Traffic Safety Programs & Materials

Traffic safety is vital for drivers of all ages, but older drivers experience physical changes that can affect driving ability including changes in vision, reaction time and flexibility. However, these skills deteriorate slowly over time, which is why it's important for drivers to regularly "self-check" their driving skills. The most important physical aspect of driving is seeing. In fact, 85% of driving is visual and 15% of driving is skill. It is proven that after age 40, eyesight deteriorates. A 60-year old driver requires ten times as much light to see as a 19 year old. Eyesight should be checked every two years, as opposed to relying on the test given by the Department of Motor Vehicles during license renewal. Senior drivers are generally smart drivers. They know their limitations, so they drive less, less at night and less in inclement weather. However, senior drivers injure more easily than younger drivers. The problem is not that senior drivers crash more but that they are more likely to die from injuries or get hurt.

In fact:

  • Seniors kill fewer motorists and pedestrians than drivers of any other age group
  • Seniors have the lowest crash involvement rates per licensed driver
  • Seniors have the lowest rate of crash involvement rates involving alcohol impairment
  • Seniors have the highest rates of seat belt use among adults

4-Second Following Rule

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  • Older drivers have the advantage of driving experience, but their reaction time is slowed. Allow a greater distance between you and the vehicle ahead to have plenty of time to stop.
  • Determining the 4-second following distance: While driving, choose a distant roadside object. When the car ahead passes that object, start counting. Stop counting when your car reaches that object. If there's 4 seconds or more between vehicles, you're following at a safe distance.

Adjust Your Schedule, Choose The Road Less Traveled

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  • Research shows that 90 percent of older drivers who fail reaction tests at high speeds perform satisfactorily at speeds 10 mph slower. Keep to the speed limit.
  • Drive familiar roads to reduce the chance of getting lost.
  • Avoid rush-hour traffic to enjoy a less stressful drive.

  • One third of all crashes are due to one or more vehicles backing up.
  • Wait until your vehicle comes to a complete stop before turning back around to face the front of the vehicle. Keep in mind your vehicle will continue to roll when you take your foot off the accelerator.

Buy The Right Car

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  • Don't think bigger is safer. A medium-sized car is best because it's easier to maneuver.
  • "Test drive," seek easy-to-see gauges and easy-to-grasp controls.
  • Sit with shoulders level with the top of the steering wheel and breastbone at least 10 inches away from the airbag.
  • A steering wheel that tilts helps drivers find a safe, comfortable position.
  • Choose vehicles with height-adjustable seats.
  • Skip tinted windows that can reduce low-light vision.
  • Make sure the car has ABS brakes, head restraints and air bags. These features aren't luxuries - they're necessities.
  • For people with hip problems, consider leather seats - they're easier to maneuver on than cloth.

DriveSharp is an interactive series of game-like computer exercises shown in independent studies to improve reaction time, reduce crash risk and increase control in most driving conditions.

Using DriveSharp can help you:

  • Cut your risk of a car crash by up to 50%
  • Increase useful field of view by up to 200%
  • Reduce stopping distance by up to 22 feet at 55mph
  • Increase confidence while driving at night and in congested traffic
In just twenty minutes a day, three times per week, DriveSharp can train your brain. To find out more about DriveSharp
Click Here

Get Your Eyes Checked at Least Every Two Years

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We drive with our eyes more than any other sense. Vision provides as much as 85 percent of the information we need to make safe decisions behind the wheel. Consider the following:

  • The amount of light needed to drive roughly doubles every 13 years
  • The ability to change focus declines with age
  • Younger drivers need only about two seconds to adjust their focus from near to far, such as when looking from the speedometer to the road ahead
  • Drivers over 40 take three seconds or more, with more time needed as they age
  • Compared to a 16-year-old, a 55-year-old takes eight times longer to recover from glare
  • Colors become harder to see, especially red
  • Some older drivers take twice as long to distinguish the flash of brake lights as young drivers
  • Peripheral vision narrows with age and depth perception declines
  • Depth perception affects the ability to judge how fast other cars are moving

Limit The Distractions

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  • Turn off the radio and keep chatter with passengers to a minimum.
  • Keep cell phone use to emergencies only. If you must use the phone, pull off to a safe location.

Make The Right Turn

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  • Left hand turns frequently result in crashes for mature drivers. Exercise awareness when turning left and try to use intersections that have left-turn signals or stop signs.
  • When waiting at a left turn signal, keep your front tires facing straight, as opposed to angling them to the left. This way, if bumped from behind, the car will head straight, as opposed to heading into oncoming traffic.

Medications and Driving

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A lesser known issue is the potentially dangerous combination of medication and driving. A AAA Foundation study (Aug. 2009) found that a large majority of drivers 55+ are unaware of the potentially dangerous combination of medications and driving. In fact, 78% surveyed take medications but just more than 1 in 4 are aware of potential impacts on driving. View the report to learn how you can avoid driving danger caused by medication.

  • Medications can interfere with driving by making the driver drowsy or distracted. This includes many over-the-counter medications such as decongestants or cold remedies. Read the fine print. If a medication is labeled "Do not use while operating heavy machinery," let someone else drive.
  • Inform your doctor about what nonprescription medications you are taking. This includes alcohol, which can interact with some drugs to cause serious side effects.
  • Roadwise Rx is a free, confidential tool developed by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety that adults can use to explore how medications may affect safe driving. It offers a way for you to record all of your medications in one central location. It also provides customized feedback on how your prescription and over-the-counter drugs, herbal supplements and foods, as well as their interactions with each other, can affect safe driving.
    Click here to learn more.

Stay Active, Stay Fit

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  • Studies have shown that exercise can slow down the aging process and help reactions stay sharp. Higher levels of fitness among older drivers correspond to better driver skills. Flexibility permits drivers to move their entire body and all their joints more freely in order to observe the road from all angles.
  • Stay mentally active. Use problem solving skills in non-driving ways can help mental flexibility - including activities like jigsaw puzzles or crosswords.
Neck Flexibility
  • Helps prevent fatigue while driving
  • Allows for looking over the shoulder to check for blind spots
  • Makes parallel parking easier
  • Assists in backing up the car
  • Stay mentally active. Use problem solving skills in non-driving ways can help mental flexibility - including activities like jigsaw puzzles or crosswords.
Shoulder Flexibility
  • Prevents fatigue
  • Makes steering easier
  • Makes backing up easier
  • Makes mirror checking easier
Trunk Flexibility
  • Makes backing up easier
  • Helps in making adjustments on the dash
  • Helps in looking to the side or back
  • Beneficial for parallel parking
Back Flexibility
  • Makes backing up easier
  • Assists in making adjustments to mirrors
  • Assists in picking up objects from the floor or seat of the vehicle
  • Improves parallel parking agility

Use The Mirrors

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  • Three mirrors should be present on the vehicle: one mirror on each side of the car and one large rearview mirror.
  • Additional mirrors won't eliminate blind spots - only relocate them.
  • Mirrors cannot replace a look over the shoulder prior to a lane change, so keeping the neck flexible through exercise is important.