Do Driving Errors Get Worse the Older We Are? How to Fix It?

We can all make a mistake driving, and we take it for granted that the segments with the least successes are the newcomers and the oldest sector. In fact, there are not a few studies that say that we make more mistakes behind the wheel as we age . For many of us, driving is an important aspect of maintaining our independence as we get older. But even being older, does that mean it's time to hand over the keys?

We all age differently, so there is no arbitrary limit to when someone should stop driving . However, older drivers are more likely to receive traffic tickets and have accidents than younger drivers; finally and I finish, they have time to improve. As we age, factors such as decreased vision, hearing problems, slower motor reflexes, and deteriorating health conditions can become a problem.

Aging also tends to result in reduced strength, coordination, and flexibility , which can rival your ability to safely control a vehicle. For example: neck pain or stiffness can make it more difficult to look over your shoulder; leg pain can make it difficult to quickly shift your foot from the accelerator to the brake; less arm strength can make it difficult to turn the wheel quickly; and your reaction times decrease as the attention.

According to research published by the American Psychological Association , in the online journal Neuropsychology , the entity was analyzed in 2011 in healthy older drivers and their real-life dynamic performance found that almost all types of driving errors increased with age, regardless of the person's travel history. The study looked at 266 people aged 70 to 88 with no signs of dementia, who lived alone and drove at least once a week.

Participants drove a 12-mile (19.3 km) course through urban and suburban streets in Brisbane , Australia , under the watchful eye of a professional driving instructor and a backseat occupational therapist scoring drivers with various errors. Failing to check blind spots was the most common error, but researchers also noted unintentional lane drift and failure to use turn signals (although it's endemic at any age).

17% of drivers made a mistake that caused the driving instructor to take action, either by braking or grabbing the wheel. Also, men were no better than women on the tests, and errors quadrupled from the youngest to the oldest participants . This does not mean that researchers believed that older people should have driving restrictions, but more control, training and alternative means of transport that ensure everyone's safety.

Let's see data of our roads and population. All those over 64 years of age, drivers, passengers and pedestrians, are included in the vulnerable group by the General Directorate of Traffic (DGT) , since their possible loss of psychophysical skills ( vision , hearing, reflexes, attention, etc. ) must be added a greater risk of suffering major injuries, even death, than a younger person, in an accident with similar characteristics. In fact, the lethality of claims involving the elderly is five times higher .

This would come to explain why, even though those over 64 years of age represent 19.6% of the Spanish population and 16.5% of the driver census, they reach 26% of those killed in traffic accidents . We cannot ignore the data on deceased pedestrians either, since more than half (51.6%) and 39.7% of these, with serious injuries, were over 65 years old . This makes it clear to us once again that they are a vulnerable group on which much attention should be paid and more efforts and resources should be dedicated.

“The psychophysical capacities in the elderly make their reaction slower, both muscularly and mentally, and, when it comes to stepping on the brakes, for example, they cannot do it with the same intensity and speed as a young person. The same thing happens when it comes to interpreting what is happening in your environment, such as glare, which affects older drivers more seriously, with worse visual acuity”, says Dr. Luis Montoro , professor of Road Safety at the University of Valencia (UV) .

What is the age limit to drive with guarantees?

According to current Spanish legislation, the renewal and review period for a type B driving license is 10 years until the age of 65 . From this moment on, it must be redone every five years. Article 13 of the Traffic Law only refers to general driving rules and the requirement to always pay attention, but not to the “limit” age of the driver: “the driver must be in a position to control traffic at all times. your vehicle."

As such, the driver of a vehicle is obliged to maintain his own freedom of movement, the necessary field of vision and permanent attention to driving, which guarantee his own safety, that of the rest of the vehicle's occupants and that of other users. of the way For this purpose, he must take special care to maintain the proper position and that the rest of the passengers maintain it, as well as the proper placement of the objects or animals transported so that there is no interference between the driver and any of them.

What can we do to avoid fatal errors?

" There is not a unique solution, but multiple and from different environments ", says Montoro. “Pretending to reduce the accident rate of older people behind the wheel only with better medical examinations is naive. Studies have been carried out that highlight the need to address multiple factors, such as the design and maintenance of roads, the complexity of traffic signals, lighting, the age of their vehicles or their greater difficulties in seeing at night”.

You may have driven your whole life and are proud of your record, but as you get older, it's important to realize that your ability to drive can change . You may feel shocked or overwhelmed at the prospect of losing some of this independence, but by keeping your mind open to new possibilities, you can still maintain an active and rewarding lifestyle. Because driving is not only a matter of age, but also of maintaining skills and aptitudes, and of external factors.

Encouraging the renewal of the automotive fleet is paramount : "The possibility of death in an accident with a car that is more than fifteen years old is three times higher than with one less than five years old," points out the also honorary president of FESVIAL . We know that an older car can be reliable and even more fun to drive, but if there's one thing they can never beat, it's safety. Manufacturing methods and the materials used have improved exponentially.

Improvement of the infrastructures both in layout design, clearer horizontal and vertical signage, increase the lighting of critical points and sections of concentration of accidents, implement containment and safety measures so that they "forgive" errors, and ultimately that result in “kinder and more empathetic” for the user. Continue developing and improving technological tools that help detect vehicles traveling in the opposite direction. The same with complex intersections, exits and additions to the roads.

Carry out more exhaustive psychophysical examinations every two years upon turning 70, accompanying it with a road health surveillance program that includes all the skills necessary to drive safely, see vision, hearing, reflexes or attention. In this sense, it should be noted that between 40 and 50% of people over 65 years of age are prescribed an average of five daily medications, many of them incompatible with driving.

Greater involvement of the health and primary care systems to establish a health minimum in road safety material by professionals (SAVIMA) . “In countries like France or Sweden, for example, if the Care doctor detects that there is a problem with a patient or develops a pathology that can affect driving, they notify the primary traffic authorities, something that in Spain is not does,” says Montoro. "If we don't know the risks and the dangers, the problem is very serious."

According to the projection of the National Institute of Statistics (INE) , in 2068 there could be more than 14 million elderly people in Spain, almost 30% of the total population of almost 50 million inhabitants. And, possibly, most of them will still drive, which could increase the accident figures. But " without considering simply taking away their driving license , since, according to the World Health Organization itself, it is not the law of all or nothing, but to see the situation and study each case," Montoro points out.