The progression of driving skills seem to change as we age. We take more chances when we’re younger and as we age, we take fewer and fewer chances until we find ourselves idling at an empty intersection looking cautiously both ways as drivers behind us honk in frustration. However, this careful driving is not always due to maturity itself, but factors such as a slower cognitive function and a regular prescription regimen that further effects their cognitive function. With the first of the Baby Boom Generation (born in 1946 through 1964), celebrating their 65th birthdays in 2011, the number of retirement age Americans will begin to grow significantly in the near future. However, this generation of retirees will demand a level of mobility and an active lifestyle that far outpaces any of America’s previous generations. Experts predict that aging population will both create and face significant transportation challenges, including a transportation system that lacks many features that would accommodate the level of safe mobility older Americans desire as well as coping with the personal problems that come along with aging that limits mobility.
Basic Driving Limitations for Elder Drivers
A new study was conducted by a transportation focused nonprofit group called TRIP, in association with the American Association of State Highways and Transportation officials has put some hard numbers on the impact of baby boomers hitting the roads. As the generation advances through their 60’s and beyond, the organization predicts the consequences on America’s roads are “not good.” Older drivers are more likely to be involved in accidents. “The most critical number is that 17 percent of traffic fatalities occurred in a traffic crash that involved at least one driver age 65 and over. But only 8 percent of vehicle miles of travelled annually are driven by drivers that are 65 and older,” Frank Moretti, director of research for TRIP, told NPR. “So, you could say from that that older drivers are twice as involved in fatal crashes as you would expect, based on their amount of travel.” In their research they found that one of the biggest concerns for elder drivers was taking a left. This is a shaky task for many drivers, especially if there are natural obstructions or larger trucks and SUVs are parked within 30 feet of the intersection. “Those are type of environments that are going to be the greatest challenge for someone that maybe their reflexes aren’t what they once were, that maybe there’s some diminishment of cognitive abilities, their vision might not be as quite as good as it once was” Moretti said. “That’s considered one of the more stressful and difficult driving challenges. And that’s why there’s a lot of emphasis on left turn lanes, to try to make those turns as easy as possible. Also, lighting at intersections is considered to be very helpful.”
- Clearer, simplified and brighter signage with larger lettering, including overhead indicators for turning lanes and overhead street signs. This should include minimum levels of retroreflectivity.
- Brighter street lighting, particularly at intersections, and bright, retroreflective pavement markings. Studies also show that increasing the width of pavement markings from 4 inches to 6 inches helps with decreasing lane departure and crashes, especially with older drivers.
- Where appropriate, widening or adding left-turn lanes and increasing the length of merge or exit lanes.
- Where appropriate, widening lanes and shoulders to reduce the consequence of driving mistakes.
- Adding rumble strips to warn motorists when they are leaving the roadway.
- Making roadway curves more gradual and easier to navigate.
- Where appropriate, design and operate roads to accommodate all users of the roadway.
- Adding countdown pedestrian signals.
- Adding refuge islands for pedestrians at intersections.
- States should also utilize the Federal Highway Administration’s “Highway Design Handbook for Older Drivers and Pedestrians” for examples of costeffective safety infrastructure upgrades.
Baby Boomers and Prescriptions Another study was published recently in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society and headed by Associate Professor Lynn Meuleners from the Curtin-Monash Accident Research Centre of Perth, Western Australia. The research was based on more than 600 people aged over 60 who were treated in hospital after a car crash between 2002 and 2008. The research found that older drivers who use prescription psychoactive drugs may be up to five times more likely to be involved in a serious crash. This includes benzodiazepines such as valium and diazepam, which are often prescribed for people over 60 suffering stress, anxiety or lack of sleep. Dr Meuleners said the level of impairment from benzodiazepines and some antidepressants could be compared to drinking alcohol. “In our study, older drivers exposed to benzodiazepines were five times as likely to be involved in a hospitalisation crash and almost twice as likely for drivers exposed to antidepressants,” Meuleners said. “The use of medications, particularly benzodiazepines and anti-depressants, may contribute to a longer reaction time when faced with the unexpected while driving.” Dr Meuleners said no-one wanted to punish older drivers who had to take prescribed drugs, but suggested that it was important to keep them safe. “[It’s] important for licensing authorities to be aware of the study results because it could have implications for the management of older drivers,” she said.
Seattle Car Accident Attorney
Baby boomers are expected to stay independent much longer, are more apt to enter fitness classes, eat healthier food, and live a more active lifestyle. These factors are key to driving longer and surviving serious car accidents. If you or someone you know have been killed or injured in a car accident it is imperative that you find legal council that can walk you through the insurance and litigation process. Call Phillips Law Firm for a consultation.
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