Are you a senior driver? Are you worried about someones driving?
The age distribution of New Zealand’s population is changing. The ageing of ‘baby boomers’ means people over the age of 65 are expected to make up about 25% of the population from the late 2030s. Not only will there be more drivers, but these drivers will also drive more kilometres per year than previous generations, and will drive at older ages.
There tends to be a negative narrative about older drivers causing accidents, having crashes and driving erratically in the media at the moment. This is largely unfair given the stats that have been made available by NZ Transport Agency. Could this be an artefact of ageism or related to the effects of our rising senior driver population?
Medical care and technology has improved, meaning many older people are living longer and driving longer than a generation ago. This means that there is an increase in the number of drivers who will have medical conditions or are on strong medication.
More likely to die:
Older drivers are more likely to be injured or die following a crash than younger people. Health problems including diminishing vision, physical and/or cognitive abilities can make driving more difficult and risky. For example, older drivers may find their night vision deteriorates, which leads to difficulty detecting and assessing hazards at night.
Knowing the road rules:
Older drivers are unlikely to have had any driver education for many years, meaning there may be gaps in general knowledge about the road code and new road rules. Take care to stay up to date with these here.
If you know someone has dementia, but continues to drive, it can be really hard to discuss your concerns about their driving with them. Driving is a sign of our independence and people can be very defensive when you bring up the topic – understandably so. Some people fail to see the danger in their driving, possibly because they can’t understand fully that they have had a loss of skills. The problem must not be ignored, even if they’re only travelling to the shops and back. Read more about this here.
Skills needed to drive safely:
- good vision in front and out of the corners of the eyes
- quick reactions – to be able to brake or turn to avoid crashes
- good coordination between eyes, hands and legs
- the ability to make decisions quickly
- the ability to make judgments about what’s happening on the road.
Use this self rating assessment from NZ Transport to see how safe your driving is.
Common older driver crash situations:
- side–impact crashes at intersections – the side panels of cars are weak and this, combined with older road users’ physical frailty, means the occupants are placed at greater risk of injury in this type of crash
- fatigue-related crashes, especially when driving in the mid-afternoon
- driver error, such as putting their foot on the accelerator instead of the brake
- most driving fatalities among older adults occur in the daytime.
During 2017 senior road users (i.e. drivers, passengers, cyclists and pedestrians aged 75 and over) made up:
- 6% of the population
- 10% of fatalities
- 6% of all injuries.
In 2017, senior road users (75 years and over) accounted for:
- 654 injuries
- 37 deaths.
If you are worried about someone’s driving, start talking about it gently and with empathy. It is a conversation that requires tact, empathy and may need to be repeated several times. Discussing concerns with a family member cold also help.