We all want to stay independent and mobile as long as possible. For older Australians with significant experience behind the wheel, this includes driving.
However, as we grow older, we become prone to conditions which can impair our ability to drive safely, putting ourselves and other road users at risk.
Clear vision, physical coordination, mental alertness and quick reactions are essential in order to drive safelyi. Understanding the changes that may occur as a result of getting older are important to raise awareness of signs of reduced driving ability.
Vision changes are a natural part of ageing, and can significantly affect driving:
- Trouble to see well under poor light conditions
- Increased sensitivity to glare
- Decreased ability to judge distances
- Higher risk of developing eye diseases such as Cataracts (clouding of the eye's lens), Glaucoma (damage of the optic nerves) or Macular Degeneration (damage to the retina, causing blindness)iii
Slower reaction time
Reduced mobility and flexibility as well as physical or mental conditions can decrease a driver's reaction time, which can be fatal on the road. For instance, when it comes to braking or manoeuvring, fragments of a second can decide life and death, which makes slow reaction times a huge risk factor on the road.
Other medical conditions
Diseases such as Dementia, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, arthritic conditions or heart disease can affect a driver's ability to drive safely. Physical and neurological conditions can impact on strength and body movement, as well as on judgement and decision making while driving, putting the driver and others at a higher risk. Keep in mind that state regulations may require you to report certain illnesses and conditionsiv, and may make additional regular assessments necessaryv.
Many Australian states have licence regulations in place based on age for older drivers. These regulations may require older drivers - usually after they have turned 75 - to have medical reviews in order to make sure they are fit to drivevi. From the age of 85, additional annual or biannual practical driving assessments become compulsory in several states, including New South Walesvii and Tasmaniaviii. Based on individual health and personal needs, older drivers may receive a modified driving licence, allowing them to drive only short distances or only at certain times of the day, for instance in the case of poor night visionix. For more information, visit your local department of transport Web site.
Stay safe on the road
There are some precautions seniors can take in order to stay safer on the road, such as:
- Have a good night sleep before you embark on long trips and take regular breaks. Do not drive at times when you would normally be asleep.
- Don't let a line of cars behind you pressure you to increase speed. Pull off the road to let them pass instead.
- Leave a larger gap between you and the car ahead, especially when the road is wet or during night time. This will give you more time to react in case you have to brake abruptlyx.
While mandatory medical examinations and driving assessments for older drivers based on age are not required in all states, identifying signs of impaired driving ability early and acting on them in a responsible way can save the lives of both the driver and other road users.
i Vicroads, Medical conditions, http://www.vicroads.vic.gov.au/Home/SafetyAndRules/SaferDrivers/Older+drivers/Medical+conditions/
ii Vicroads, Vision, http://www.vicroads.vic.gov.au/Home/SafetyAndRules/SaferDrivers/Older+drivers/Medical+conditions/Vision.htm
iii Vicroads, Eye diseases, http://www.vicroads.vic.gov.au/Home/SafetyAndRules/SaferDrivers/Older+drivers/Medical+conditions/Eye+diseases.htm
iv Vicroads, What the law says, http://www.vicroads.vic.gov.au/Home/SafetyAndRules/SaferDrivers/FamilyandFriends/Whatthelawsays.htm
v Vicroads, Other medical conditions, http://www.vicroads.vic.gov.au/Home/SafetyAndRules/SaferDrivers/Older+drivers/Medical+conditions/OtherMedicalConditions.htm
vi NSW Government, Transport Roads & Maritime Services, Older drivers, http://www.rms.nsw.gov.au/roads/licence/index.html
vii NSW Government, Transport Roads & Maritime Services, 85 and over, http://www.rms.nsw.gov.au/roads/licence/index.html
viii Tasmanian Government, Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources, Senior licence holders, http://www.transport.tas.gov.au/licence_information_folder/senior_licence_holders
ix NSW Government, Transport Roads & Maritime Services, Options for older drivers, http://www.rms.nsw.gov.au/roads/licence/index.html
x Transport Accident Commission, Staying Safe on the Road, http://www.tacsafety.com.au/older-drivers/tips-for-staying-safe-on-the-road