Australians are remaining healthy and living longer than before (over thirty years longer compared to the 1880s, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare). Because of this, people are more active, social, and are driving longer. In fact, experts predict there will be 24.2% drivers over 65 in 2051 in Australia, more than doubling from 2001 (11.1%). This means that the average age of Australians on road is expected to increase. So, what does this mean for road safety? And at what age are Australians deemed too old to drive?
Risks of Driving When You’re Older
Firstly, there are many excellent older drivers out there. Being an older driver doesn’t necessarily make you a risk on the road – older drivers have years of experience behind them which makes them very safe and knowledgeable. That being said, as we get older, some senses do begin to weaken, which can affect driver safety and can put others at risk as the likelihood of an accident increases.
Fatal and serious road accidents involving drivers aged 65+ are increasing in Australia. The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics data taken between 2007–2018 shows road fatalities involving drivers aged 65–75 increased by 2.3% and fatalities involving drivers aged 75+ years old increased by 1.2%. Hospitalisations involving older drivers are also increasing – there has been a 9% increase for drivers aged 65+. This is a steeper increase than in younger drivers where the figure increased by 1.8%. Unfortunately, as older drivers are the more fragile demographic, they are more likely to get hurt or die as a result of being involved in a car accident. While not all older drivers are unsafe, older citizens that may have weakened senses may be endangering themselves and others.
How Exactly Does Ageing Affect Driving Ability?
As we get older, our responsiveness and reflexes begin to slow as our senses – sight and hearing particularly – start to deteriorate, impairing our ability to near-instant judgements, brake, and steer quickly. Medications (which are also more likely prescribed to and taken by elderly) can also affect driving as they change a person’s state of being (e.g. blood pressure medications, painkillers, insomnia drugs).
On top of this, as we age, our physical features may begin to weaken or get a bit stiff, making certain driving tasks, like checking the blind spot or turning around while reversing, difficult and uncomfortable (perhaps making older drivers less willing to make these movements). Further, leg pain can hinder the ability to move feet between pedals; diminished arm strength can impair the ability to turn the steering wheel quickly or effectively to the right degree; vision is of course the most influential to driving ability, and for most people, ageing adversely affects vision.
Then there’s a whole bunch of other age-related health conditions that can adversely affect driving ability like dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, diabetes, and more.
Signs it’s Time to Stop Driving
From a legal standpoint, there are no definitive rules for driving as an elderly Australian. The driving age and legislation differs state to state, so it’s important to check the rules for your particular state. For example, in QLD, drivers that are over 75 years are required to carry a valid medical certificate that must be renewed every 13 months. However, doctors can only stop elderly drivers from driving if there are relevant medical reasons present.
As there is no legal limit to driving age restrictions, there is no set age when you should stop driving. This limit will be different for each person. Getting older doesn’t automatically mean you have to give up driving; however, you should most definitely monitor your driving abilities. Gary J. Kennedy, MD, a geriatic psychiatrist professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine says if you’re not trusted or allowed to drive with children, it’s time to give up driving. This may be your warning sign as an older driver. Further, you may notice some of the following indications:
- Stopping at green lights or when there is no stop sign
- Confused by traffic signals
- Running stop signs or red lights
- More frequent accidents (even minor ones)
- Getting lost (even on roads you know)
- Your friends and family begin voicing concerns
- Drivers honking at you
- Trouble staying in your lane
- Often having close calls with other drivers
- Increased citations (e.g. traffic tickets)
- Trouble moving your foot between pedals and get confused between pedals
- Feel anxious about driving
- Other cars, bikes, pedestrians seem to appear out of nowhere
- Missing traffic signs and signals when driving
- Making more errors in judgement and mistakes when driving
Alternatives to Giving up Driving Completely
If you’re noticing some of the aforementioned signs but aren’t ready to give up driving completely, then here are some steps you can take to still enjoy driving, though in a safer setting.
- Avoid night driving
- Avoid bad weather
- Drive only in familiar places
- Drive only within certain radius of home
- Avoid highways
- Leave plenty space between you and car in front
- Start braking early
- Remind yourself to look both ways at intersections
- Remind yourself to look in the mirrors frequently
- Limit distractions while driving (e.g. eating, radio, other noises, conversations with people, phone).
Another option is to consider taking a driver safety course for older drivers to help measure your driving ability. Also make sure you discuss your health problems that may be impairing driving ability (e.g. joint pain, vision loss, hearing problems) with your doctor.
In regards to the actual car itself, ensure your vehicle has modern safety features to ensure you and other drivers are as safe as possible. Vehicles with auto transmission, power steering, power brakes, and larger mirrors are easier for older people to drive. Older models, while nostalgic, are better left on display as they require greater effort to drive. Ensure your car is safe with regular scheduled maintenance; keep your windscreen, mirrors, and headlights clean and chip free. To get you safe and on the road, Novus Autoglass offers headlight restoration services as well as mirror replacement as well as a DIY glass cleaner, and of course, we have our lifetime guaranteed windscreen repairs and replacements.
How To Tell Someone it’s Time to Stop Driving
It’s hard to tell someone you love that it’s time to hang up their licence, but it’s for their own safety. Before you tell them it’s time to give up driving, ensure you set them up with certain skills. It’s important for people to plan how to retire from driving but still be mobile within their local community to ensure quality of life. For elderly patrons unfamiliar with the public transport system, it’s a good first step to get them acquainted with how to buy a travel card, how to use it, which routes to take, and how to seek help when they need it.
This is obviously a very personal matter that should be dealt within a family conversation. You may also wish to gain support from medical practitioners who identify specific problems and have road authority to make judgements regarding the person’s driving capability.
For some families, this conversation can be tricky. Many seniors resist giving up their cars and driving, even with loved ones voicing concerns. This is because ceasing to drive marks the end of a stage of life. Also seniors often do not want to give up their freedom, independence, self-sufficiency, and all that their driver’s license symbolises. The transition from independent driver to passenger can be difficult at first.
If you’re concerned and the driver is resisting, remember that you can settle for an evaluation of the driver. This can be performed by a driver school. Reaction time, reflexes, and vision can be tested at physical therapy centres, specialists, and by doctors.
Also, remind the driver that there may be benefits with living without a car or driving, such as saving money, exercising more, expanding their social circle from car pooling, and an improvement to mental health without the stress of driving. To help them continue on with life as per usual, take some time to show them delivery services for groceries, meals, medications.
Some Final Tips
- Be respectful and avoid confrontation
- Provide specific and have examples prepared
- Focus on the driver’s skills and not age;
- Gain support from others, especially from impartial parties.
- Help find alternatives
- Be supportive and caring
- Understand the difficulty of the transition
Though these are awkward and painful topics and conversations, they must be had. Lives – particularly of those you love – could depend on them. There is no mandated age Australians must give up driving, therefore it is a shared responsibility to communicate with older drivers about their driving. However, this doesn’t just apply to older drivers but anyone we deem a risk. Driver ability may be impacted at any age.
Novus Autoglass is a global brand in glass repair. Novus repairs and replaces broken and cracked windscreens efficiently using the latest technology to get you back on the road faster. Book in your service online or call 13 22 34 today to hear more about our services.