One of the most difficult decisions a senior and his family must make involves whether an elderly individual has become too old to operate a vehicle safely. The aging process can result in physical decline affecting vision, cognitive function and reaction time. Seniors may become slower to act when operating a vehicle. And at some point, the physical and mental health issues often associated with aging can mean an elderly person poses an unacceptable risk of causing a car accident.
Seniors need to make an informed decision on when or if they should stop driving. This decision usually should be made in consultation with friends and family. However, it is imperative that seniors do not wait too long since they could cause a serious motor vehicle accident, endangering themselves and others.
When Do Seniors Create Too Big of a Risk of Car Accidents?
Boston.com recently published an AAA Foundation study showing seniors should not give up their driving privileges sooner than absolutely necessary. The AAA Study has found a correlation between a senior’s choice to stop driving and a decline in mental and physical health.
The study found that healthy seniors who stop driving are not as socially engaged as people their same age who still have a driver’s license. The non-drivers experience more health problems, greater loss of cognitive function, and engage in less physical and outdoor activities. They are also less socially connected and more likely to experience symptoms of depression. These same people are also five times more likely to wind up in an assisted-living facility compared with someone the same age who still drives.
But more research needs to be done to determine if there’s any correlation between seniors who no longer drive and a decline in their physical or mental abilities. While there may be a connection between adverse health effects and some seniors who no longer drive, another explanation could be that some seniors who gave up driving were already dealing with health problems anyway. In addition, these same health issues may have been the reason why these seniors stopped driving in the first place.
Even if research does show that seniors suffer adverse health effects after they stop driving, it is important to weigh this risk against the risk a senior can present to others on the road. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has reported that seniors over the age of 70 are the demographic group with the second-highest accident rate (teens are the first). Seniors are significantly more likely than middle aged individuals to be involved in motor vehicle accidents. By the time a senior realizes he is no longer able to drive safely, it could be too late and an accident might have already happened.
Making informed choices about when seniors should stop driving will likely continue to be a hot topic as more people grow older. By 2030, 20 percent of the U.S. population will be 65 years old and up compared with only 13 percent in 2010. Seniors, their doctors, and their loved ones must make sure they careful assess whether seniors can still safely drive or whether they present a greater danger to everyone else on the road.