Most seniors fear losing their driving privileges. One of the ways to reduce that risk is dealing with distracted driving among the elderly. Your first thought may be cell phones and texting equals distracted driving, but it’s bigger than that.
It’s true that cell phones and texting are a huge issue, especially among youth. In fact, the National Safety Council (NSC) has an “attributable risk estimate model” claiming cell phone use leads to 1.6 million crashes each year. They are convinced the cell phone use at the time of crash is significantly under reported via Police Fatality Analysis Reporting Systme (FARS). FARS reports that distracted driving accounts for 14% of the 6,296,000 total crashes in 2015. Only 1% of those crashes are attributed to cell phone use. Source: https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812381
Regardless whether NSC or FARS data is accurate, there are still too many car crashes and fatalities caused by distracted driving. Accidents cased by distracted driving is a statistic that can be reduced, even eliminated. Implementing simple things like ensuring your focus is on the road and not your passenger. One of the most frequent causes of distracted driving is talking to a passenger. Others are daydreaming, eating, drinking, and smoking. Reaching for something in the car and adjusting car controls are also activities that result in accidents or near misses. I had an aunt who drove off a cliff trying to stop a lemon pie from sliding off the seat. Fortunately my aunt survived. The car and the lemon pie did not.
In all cases, the driver of the car is not paying attention to the task of driving the car and the traffic around them. Distracted driving among the elderly can be compounded by hearing loss. If you are struggling to listen to a conversation or the radio while driving, then your attention to the road is compromised. Vision issues can also interfere with your ability to pay attention to the rate of speed, road signs, and traffic in the vicinity. Most of the time hearing and vision issues can be corrected by a medical professional. Have frequent checkups to ensure your hearing and vision are optimum before you get behind the wheel of a car.
Changes in the vehicle you drive can also cause distracted driving. If you get a new car, especially if your last car is five years old or older, you may be overwhelmed by the gadgets in it. Today most vehicles come with back up cameras, GPS units, and other gadgets/controls. The environment might take a while to get used to. If there are any gadgets in your new car, then learn to use them off road or do not use them at all. A relatively safe place to practice is in a local store parking lot after hours. Until you can confidently operate the car controls without looking at them, do not drive in traffic.
Avoid cell phone use. When you get into a car turn your phone off. You still have it with you should you need it during an emergency. When you get to your destination you can check if you have missed calls or have voice mail from someone. There is zero reason to use a phone while you are driving. The only exception is if you are using its GPS function. In that case, set up your route before you hit the road. When you get in the car, set the phone in a safe place, such as a cell phone holder. Make sure you can hear the directions without being distracted by the phone.
Some of this may be difficult to accept by the “pre-seat-belt” crowd, but it is never safe to eat, drink or smoke while driving. Each of these tasks is a few seconds from a disaster. Should you choke on your food, drop your cigarette, or spill your drink, your attention is not going to be on the road for several seconds. At 55 MPH you will drive the length of a football field in 5 seconds. If you doubt the danger, close your eyes right now and walk while counting from 1001 to 1005. Did you feel confident? Did you feel safe? Why would you take this same risk while driving?
Another factor that can contribute to distracted driving among the elderly are medications. Some medications warn against operating a motor vehicle, and you should heed that advice. However, there is also the increased possibility of medication interactions among the elderly. If you are taking multiple medications or supplements, it is important to have a Brown Bag review. Medications can affect your attention span, make you sleepy, confused, or slow your reactions. They can also cause sleepless nights and over-tired days. Make sure your medications do not contribute to a distracted driving error that could cost you your property or life.
Being lost in thought can also lead to distracted driving. In one study it was found to contribute to 62% of distracted driving accidents. One of the most stressful activities can be going to the doctor. As you age, health issues crop up. Some of them can be serious. If you are on your way to get test results, or meet with a specialist about an upcoming procedure, you may be lost in that thought. Your mind may not be on the road. Rather than take risks, this might be a good time to have someone else drive you to the appointment.
Reflexes are another factor when it comes to distracted driving among the elderly. Your reflexes get slower as you age. It’s not true for all but it is for most. As an older adult you aren’t going to be as quick to step on the brakes or turn the wheel to avoid a collision. Because of this it is even more important that you practice safe habits to avoid driving while distracted. Ten rules for older adults to follow to reduce distracted driving among the elderly.
- Get your vision checked
- Get your hearing checked
- Pay attention to the road NOT your passenger
- Know how to use your car controls blindfolded
- Get a brown bag review of your medications
- Do not eat, drink or smoke while driving
- Turn your cell phone off
- If you are under stress have someone else drive for you
- Know your reflexes are not what they used to be and compensate for it
- Set up your GPS route before you get in the car.
Live longer. Drive safer.