Helping senior drivers stay safe
There are now more than four million people in the UK aged 70 and over who hold driving licences, and this figure will keep rising. GEM Motoring Assist’s chief executive David Williams MBE is keen to put safety first, and offers some useful explanations for family members who may be keen to help, but unsure of whether to get involved:
Older people are not as represented in crashes as other groups – but when they do crash, it’s going to hurt them more and most likely hurt others, too. Our bodies change with age. Bones become more brittle, eyesight is less sharp and reactions can slow down.
Advice: explain this to the senior driver you’re hoping to help. Encourage them to ensure they make journeys where concentration, alertness and observation will be at their sharpest.
Figures show that older people are more prone to crash where they might have to make a decision quickly. This is most likely because of the number of tasks they have to deal with in a very short time. An example might be the need to act quickly because of time pressure, whether that’s real or just their perception. If they are turning right, they may need to judge the time and distance available while an oncoming car on the main road might be about to cross their path. Making the decision to go can be a lot to think about. That’s why some older drivers give up turning right – and have to plan much longer journeys.
Advice: talk about where they might be having risky moments. Suggest they plan their journeys to avoid the busiest times, and think about the types of road they would prefer to avoid.
Seeing the signs
Senior drivers tend to be over-represented in small mistake-based accidents where they have misjudged a distance, and are not always good at seeing the size of a gap they want to squeeze through. They might also not see road signs or markings, or they may fail to act on the information given by these signs.
Advice: encourage your senior relative or friend to get their eyes tested regularly. Eye tests are free for anyone aged 60 or over. They also give professionals the opportunity to offer the best assistance as they can pick up any potential problems at an early stage.
We believe that the relationship between senior drivers and their family members can make a big contribution to staying safe on the road for longer. Most of us are not aware of small changes or deteriorations in our reaction times, vision or skill.
Advice: the sensitive intervention of a son, daughter or other relative can be all that’s needed to encourage a senior driver to reflect on what may need a bit of attention, and to take the necessary action to put things right.
For many senior drivers, a car is part of their identity, and if they are told to stop driving, then they may well feel they feel as though they’re ready for the scrap heap. Sad though it may seem, still driving has come to mean that you’re functioning well and part of society. If you no longer drive, the danger is that you will feel isolated and excluded.
Advice: offer solutions. If you’re going to talk to a parent about reducing their driving, don’t just offer them a box full of bus timetables. Be ready for the parent to be upset. Some older people have accepted advice immediately, stating that they had already made their mind up that they would stop driving when a family member suggested it to them.
Journeys that matter
If you have persuaded a senior driver to give up the car, then try to do more than organise lifts to hospital, the GP, the shops etc. It’s the other journeys – to the beach, to the woods, to explore a new town, to see life going on – that are likely to be most missed, and well-intended community transport initiatives don’t usually help.
Advice: the best offers of help can be with journey suggestions just for the sake of it rather than anything too practical.
Take a look at www.stillsafetodrive.org.uk, a free video-based resource from GEM Motoring Assist with an excellent line-up of practical advice for senior drivers and their families.