As with many of our other abilities, it’s normal that even learned skills like your driving abilities will change over time. As a younger driver, you should be able to understand that it’s not that the elderly are purposefully driving so slowly to cause traffic. Or to intentionally make you wait in line for a long time when you want to get to where you’re going as soon as possible.
Many impatient drivers on the roads tend to forget that elderly drivers are not as vibrant in their driving abilities as the younger generation. In fact, they are biologically unable to apply much of their motor and visual skills, which becomes a significant problem on the road.
The fast-paced world has made many people impatient, paving the way for ageism, especially regarding driving. But do we understand the reason why older adults drive slowly? If you want to learn more about this topic, continue reading the rest of the article.
Do Old People Cannot Go Faster Or Do Not Want To Go Faster?
The answer to this question is more complex. But if we were to look at it from a general perspective, older adults drive slowly because they are being extra cautious. Most of them are aware of how their age impacts their body functions. This causes them to have specific restricted motor movements, which are essential for safe driving.
Because they know their shortcomings, older drivers tend to drive slowly to make up for it. However, even if they are driving slowly for their safety, they might risk the lives of other drivers.
Driving way below the speed limit is a considerable hazard, especially on highways where there is a certain speed that everyone drives in. the sudden slowing down and unannounced stoppage sometimes might cause the drivers behind them to rear-end their cars and cause a collision.
To answer the question, yes, older people cannot go any faster because of their impaired sense of driving abilities. Still, they also do not want to go any faster for fear that something terrible might happen if they do, and they don’t have fast enough reflexes to make any sudden changes in direction or stop an accident from occurring.
What Are The Causes That Old People Drive So Slowly?
There can be many causes why the elderly drive very slowly. Sometimes there’s more than one reason why they also drive; other times, it can be a mixture of many factors.
Here are some of the common reasons that can cause older adults to drive very slowly:
Stiffness In The Bones And Muscles
The more you age, the more likely your bones and joints become very stiff. There might be other health conditions that can contribute to weak muscles and joints, such as arthritis. All these bodily changes, when put together, make it difficult for older adults to have fast motor movements and reflexes.
For example, something as simple as steering the wheel or turning your neck to look at cars behind you becomes very difficult. Not only is it the stiffness that prevents them from driving correctly, but there’s also pain along with muscle and motor problems.
Slow Reaction Time
Strongly associated with stiff muscles and joints, the reflexes of old people are much slower than the average young person. You might even lose feeling in some parts of your body, which makes it hard for your brain to compute when a stimulus is felt.
Hence, it might take longer to get you in severe accidents when you’re driving and need to step on the brakes suddenly or steer away from trouble.
As you get older, you are more prone to getting impaired vision. Once your vision starts to deteriorate, it becomes more difficult for you to see things in front of you, people, and even movement outside your vision. It can also get blurry, making reading road signs and signals even harder.
Especially if you’re driving at night, it becomes a massive problem because, along with impaired vision, you don’t have enough light to see where you are going. Plus, driving on a busy road at night is filled with headlights and streetlights.
Glare from oncoming traffic is one of the most common reasons why people get into accidents because, for a brief moment, you cannot see where you are going. Driving is probably not a good idea if you have eye diseases like macular degeneration, glaucoma, or cataracts.
As you grow older, your body needs a lot of supplements to keep fit and function normally. For this, you might be under several treatments and medications. Some medicines make you feel sleepy or restrict proper brain functioning. Other medicines also strictly state that you should not operate any heavy machinery after taking the drugs.
Older people have difficulty hearing, making it hard to notice sirens, horns, and noises coming from their cars. These sounds are signals that you might have to move out of the way, stop your vehicle, or pull over, but since you cannot hear these warnings, you might end up landing in unnecessary trouble.
People over 50 who notice that they are having difficulty hearing things should get their auditory abilities checked every once in a while. If there are any risks to losing your hearing, you can take corrective measures or get hearing aids so that you don’t have to worry about it when driving.
Other Severe Health Conditions
Older people have more tendency to develop chronic illnesses like Parkinson’s disease, which makes it unsafe for them to be operating motor vehicles.
They are also more prone to suffering from cardiac arrests and stroke, which will ultimately affect their driving if not taken care of. Hence old people with chronic illnesses should stay away from driving as much as possible.
Do Old People Cause Accidents Because They Drive Too Slowly?
Driving too slowly can be a significant reason why there are a lot of accidents on the road. Especially if it’s on the highway, there is a specific speed limit that you shouldn’t cross, but there’s also a minimum speed at which most vehicles are supposed to operate. Going below this lower limit might have other drivers off guard and collide with each other.
When it comes to elderly people, their reason for driving slowly is usually them trying to make up for slow reaction time. They have slower reflexes than younger drivers, so they tend to slow down just in case they need to make a few quick judgments and movements when driving.
But it is because of this kind of hazardous slow driving that can cause accidents to happen sometimes. Slowing down suddenly and in places where people don’t typically slow down might cause other drivers to collide with you because:
- You forgot to turn on your blinker.
- You slowed down so suddenly that you didn’t give the divers behind you enough time to calculate what was happening.
This is usually the most common reason why rear-end crashes happen. Sometimes old people drive slowly because they are trying to read signs and signals on the road, which is disturbed by their impaired vision.
Hence, either running a red light, missing a green light, or other such problems, which eventually might lead to a collision or an accident.
Is It Better For Old People To Not Drive At All?
The problem in dealing with these questions is that the older we get, the more independence we lose. Our egos and self-esteem sometimes get shattered when we know we are no longer in control.
Likewise, the ability to drive and be able to drive to places is a form of independence. When you are told that you can no longer drive on your own or that it is unsafe for you and other drivers on the road, it can become a huge cause of distress.
But as a knowledgeable family member, you must protect your loved one from avoidable adverse circumstances. And this involves reckless driving. Suppose your parents or grandparents suffer from multiple health conditions like impaired vision, hearing, loss of control over limbs and muscles, and other health issues that require them to be on medication most of the time. In that case, it is better not to have them operate their motor vehicles.
There’s too much risk involved in these scenarios, so even if it is a difficult conversation, ask them to call you or anyone younger in the family to drive them places if they need to.
Other than these life-threatening factors, if you think some corrective measure will help them get back on their feet for at least a few years, then take them to your doctor as soon as possible and get the treatment they need.
One preventive measure you can take before they’re too old to drive is to help them choose old-people-friendly cars. It is essential to check the safety ratings of the cars before you get them and make sure that the mechanism is not too complicated for them to learn how to use it properly.
What Are Additional Safety Measures For Old People To Use When They Drive?
In the world that we live today, driving is a basic necessity for you to get around. But the older you get, the more your chances of developing health conditions that prevent you from driving safely. However, there are still a few precautionary measures that you can take as a senior citizen who is still actively driving in public:
Do A Physical Health Assessment
With aging, your body is going through different changes. Hence, it affects your motor and mental functions. This is why elderly people need routine checkups and ensure everything works.
If the doctor finds any signs of health issues that can interrupt your daily life, specifically in your driving abilities, it is best to get them corrected or undergo treatment. Only when you get the green signal from your physician will it be safe for you to drive again with the fear of getting into accidents.
Check Your Medications
Regardless of age, if you’re under heavy medications, you should always avoid driving. Some drugs can make you feel lightheaded or drowsy, which is not a good combination with driving or operating complex and heavy machinery.
As for older people, their medications might include those that are meant for relaxing the muscles or painkillers, which affect the response time or muscle reflexes.
Always Wear Your Seatbelt
As evident as it is, there’s nothing better than following your general traffic rules set by the authorities. Wearing your seatbelt can help you avoid serious injuries from accidents. Whether going down the street to the grocery store or on a long ride, seatbelts are a must in all situations.
Don’t Use Your Cell Phone Or Eat When Driving
Try to limit as many distractions as you can when you’re driving. Eating or talking on the phone or even having your phone on general mode is bound to have you distracted trying to see who is calling or texting you. Your entire focus should be on the road and getting to your destination safely.
Eating, drinking, and other activities should be left for when you’re parked or outside the car. In general, understand that multitasking is not a good idea when you’re driving.
Try To Drive Only When There’s Still Daylight
As you grow older, your vision gets impaired, and you might develop eye problems and diseases that block your line of vision. You can wear corrective glasses and get treatments to cure them, but it’s better to drive when you still have ample sunlight to see where you are going. Driving in the dark can be a huge risk, especially if you already have these vision problems.
Avoid Driving If The Weather Conditions Are Bad
Whether there’s a storm, foggy, or snowfall, driving in these extreme weather conditions is never recommended. Even expert drivers have difficulty viewing the road when the weather is terrible.
So, it’s better to avoid driving in such cases. If you must travel, you can always get a cab or taxi service or take the bus or any other public transportation.
How Can Younger Drivers And Pedestrians Protect Themselves
Be On The Lookout For Signs
If your parent or grandparent is facing many issues when driving, it might be a sign that you should either modify their driving habits or tell them to stop driving. You should pay attention to what your neighbors, colleagues, friends, and other drivers say about their driving habits. If you notice that they are getting more anxious about driving during certain times of the day, especially at night, or getting a lot of warnings and tickets about their rash driving, it’s a sure sign that they are having some trouble with safe driving.
As vague as it sounds, most road rage comes from drivers who are utterly impatient with older drivers. Old people are not driving slowly because they want to but because that’s all they can do without getting into accidents.
It’s good to practice e a little empathy and try to understand them by getting into their shoes. You can be late for one meeting, but rash driving because of slow drivers can lead you to even more fatal situations.
Help Them Choose The Best Cars
If you’re helping an older adult buy a car, make sure that you emphasize the safety rating. You need the car to be as safe as possible for the driver, pedestrians, and other drivers on the road. While it’s always better to avoid accidents whenever possible, you can’t always be confident that nothing will happen when you’re on the road.
So, before buying a car, ensure everything is old- people-friendly. Make sure they understand how everything works in the car and give them the time to learn how to drive and handle their cars properly.
Take Them For Regular Checkups
If your older parents, grandparents, or other family members insist on driving, ensure you take them to the hospital for regular checkups. You want to ensure that they get the treatment they need for any health conditions that might hamper their driving abilities when on the road.
Always Accompany The Elderly When Driving
Even though it might be a bit inconvenient at times, it’s always a good idea to accompany an older person when they’re driving. This way, you and the driver feel safe knowing that if one of you doesn’t feel like you can’t drive anymore, there’s someone who can help you. Or, in case the car breaks down, you are not stranded alone in the middle of the road.
As a family member or a close friend, it is your duty and responsibility to tell an older adult then it’s time for them to hang up the keys. It’s only natural that your driving abilities deteriorate over time. It’s bound to happen to anyone.
So, when you have this conversation with them, make sure you’re being empathetic and let them understand that it is for their good that you’re pushing this idea. Also, give them the assurance that whenever they need to go anywhere, you are there to drive them or have a car arranged for them when they need it.