Older Drivers Work to Stay Safe on the Roads
It makes sense that teen drivers are more likely to get into accidents. After all, they don't have a lot of experience behind the wheel. But older drivers, some of the most experienced on the road, are also a concern.
Teens and drivers over 80 are three times more likely to die in a car crash than other age groups.
As the population ages, concerns about elderly drivers grow. But, help is available to stay safe on the road. You may see Betty Williams making her way around in her yellow VW Beetle Betty got her license at age 14. To remain active at 74, she took an AARP class designed for older drivers.
Betty says, "Talked a lot about the physical changes of aging and how that related to driver. Reaction time, muscle things." She says she now feels more confident, and she still uses the tips she learned.
Betty explains, "One of the things we practiced in class, it was so funny. Older people get stiff and you need to be able to look this way, and this way, and this way, and this way. So, we'd sit in class and go like this."
Jack Peet of AAA says Betty is right to be concerned about the physical changes that come along with aging. Besides decreased mobility, studies show older drivers also face reduced reaction time and cognitive ability as well as a variety of vision problems. For example, Peet says, “There's something called glare recovery, that happens. As a car comes at you, and the headlights are real bright. As we're younger, our pupils react to that bright light and then they go back to working in the darkness much quicker than an older driver."
Next to teens, drivers over 80 are more likely to die in car crashes than any other group. In 2001, the most recent statistics available, the National Highway Safety Administration ranked Michigan fifth in the nation for the number of older drivers killed in crashes.
It's a problem only expected to grow as our population ages. By 2020, people 65 and older will represent 25% of all drivers. Yet, Michigan only requires a vision test to renew a license. At least 15 other states require additional tests for older drivers.
As Jack Peet says, "It is being addressed on the younger side. So, as a state, we need to address that on the older side as well."
Police or family members can recommend the Secretary of State's office pull any driver's license. But, they don't want to discriminate based on age.
The Michigan Department of Transportation however, is making some changes to address the needs of older drivers. Julie Hurley of M-DOT says, "On our freeways, the rumble strips used to be one or two feet off the edge line. Now we're actually moving those closer to the edge line so motorists know a lot earlier if they're kind of diverging off of the freeway."
And the white fog line on the side of the road is now six inches wide instead of four, so it's easier to see. Stop lights are getting brighter and signs are getting bigger. Hurley says, “The clear view font is a different type of font. And the letters are actually bigger on the new signs than on the old signs."
The roads can't solve all concerns for older drivers. 83 year old Marion Sutton, is learning how to ride The Rapid public busses. She says, “I have macular degeneration in the right eye. And when I went to get my license, I also had a cataract in the other eye, so I couldn't see. I didn't realize it. So, thank goodness they took me off the road. I didn't realize I wasn't seeing that well."
The class Marion attends through Easter Seals is designed to help keep seniors independent. That's why they learned about public transportation.
Still, Marion says giving up her driver's license was a difficult decision. She explains, "It's a lot to give up. And to lose a little bit of your independence."
Independence that sometimes takes a back seat to safety.