5 ‘Hot Spots’ for Older Drivers

Over 34 million motorists age 65 and older are licensed to drive in North America. Generally, they’re some of the safest drivers on the road. However, senior drivers are more likely to be involved in certain types of accidents than other motorists, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. They also have the second highest rate for deadly crashes among all age groups. Here are the five most dangerous driving situations for seniors — and how to stay safe when encountering them.

1. Merging
The most common error made among senior drivers is failing to yield the right-of-way. Drivers 70 to 79 are likely able to see another vehicle but misjudge whether there’s time to merge into a lane. Drivers 80 and older, meanwhile, mostly fail to see the other vehicle. Stiff joints may make it more difficult for senior drivers to turn their heads to check for vehicles while changing lanes or merging into traffic. Installing a fish-eye mirror on your side mirrors can increase your field of vision.

2. Intersections
The majority of accidents involving senior drivers happen at intersections with stop signs or traffic lights. Many older drivers either don’t see the light change or don’t notice the traffic signs — or they can’t stop in time because of slow reflexes. Staying safe: The best way for senior drivers to stay safe in or near intersections is to scan the scene. Drivers should survey both sides of the road with their eyes — not by turning their heads — when approaching intersections, private drives and retail stores to look for cars and pedestrians. Make sure to tilt your view up a little to look for changing stoplights, instead of looking straight ahead at the car in front of you.

3. Driving at dusk
Many senior drivers may know to stay off the road at night because dimly lit roads and the glare of oncoming headlights make it difficult to see. However, driving at dusk is
equally dangerous. “The limited light makes it difficult to judge distance and spot obstacles in the road,” says Dr. Sandy Feldman, an ophthalmologist in San Diego. The gray area between the light fading on the horizon and the dark pavement often makes it difficult for weakened eyes to adjust to the changes in light. Consequently, it’s harder to spot cars and traffic signals, which can lead to confusion and trigger panic and poor decision-making. Staying safe: If you can’t avoid driving at dusk or at night, talk to your ophthalmologist about antireflective lenses, which may make it easier to see through the glare of oncoming headlights and adapt to sudden changes in light.

4. Driving below the speed limit
Some seniors who are nervous behind the wheel want to go slower, thinking they’re safer. But Brian Meyer, a senior traffic school instructor, says going too slow is just as risky as speeding. That’s because driving below the posted speed limit increases the possibility of getting rear-ended or becoming the target of another driver’s road rage. Meyer says agitated drivers may cut off slower drivers to get around them or tailgate closely behind the slower driver, bumping up the chances of an accident. “They may also become so enraged that they attempt to pass you and lose control,” Meyer says. Staying safe: If you’re not comfortable traveling at the posted minimum speed limit, the best thing to do is get off the road. As an alternative, don’t drive during rush hour. “Run errands during the day, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., the time when the roads are typically the most quiet,” suggests Meyer.

5. Left turns
Statistically, the average motorist could drive 1 billion miles — the distance from Earth to Jupiter and back — before getting into an accident that involves a right-hand turn, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. That’s because right hand turns generally don’t require the driver to pay attention to as many things as left turns. However, when making a lefthand turn the odds are not nearly as good. Drivers need to look for vehicles, pedestrians, animals and other obstacles in the road in both directions, which means they also have to judge whether it’s safe to turn from two directions. Left-turn accidents commonly result in one of the drivers being “T boned,” or hit in the middle. These collisons tend to be more serious because the impact is from the side where there is less protection.

Courtesy of Cars Keys Magazine, April 2014