Keeping Older Drivers Safe on the Road - JNGI

The legal age for a person to begin driving in Jamaica is 18, however, there is no age limit to indicate when a person should stop driving. As driving skills invariably deteriorate with aging, the decision to discontinue driving is often made by the senior citizen, a medical doctor, or a loved one.

Seventy-four-year-old, Carol Stewart, a retiree of Duncans, Trelawny, who has been driving for almost five decades, related that he quit driving two years ago when he was no longer able to determine the distance of vehicles ahead of him or those that were oncoming.

“I found out that my judgement was not on par. My eyesight, particularly at night, was not good. I could not judge distance properly anymore. I could make out objects in the distance, but I couldn’t tell exactly what they were sometimes,” he said.

Statistics provided by the Road Safety Unit of the Ministry of Transport and Works showed that 14 drivers and motorcyclists, aged sixty and older, lost their lives in fatal crashes from 2013 to 2018.

Dr Donald Neil, a general practitioner, underscores that driving is a complex activity that requires adequate vision, hearing, mobility, coordination, and cognition, which can be affected by ageing or medical conditions.

“Strength, coordination and flexibility can be impaired by arthritic joint disease or neurological conditions, like stroke and Parkinson’s disease. Arthritic neck or leg pain can prolong reaction time and limit ability to make timely adjustments. Age-related cognitive decline, as well as dementia, cause memory impairment and compromise decision-making skills,” he explained.

He also outlined conditions, such as cataract, glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic eye disease, as well as impaired hearing, which limits one’s ability to respond to horns, sirens etc., are more common in the elderly and can be a driving hazard.

Dr Neil further pointed out that certain medications used more commonly among the elderly have side effects that can impair their ability to drive safely.

“Drowsiness, light-headedness and reduced alertness can be caused by various medications used for anxiety and sleep, certain antidepressants and even OTC (over-the-counter) medications. Some of these medications may even cause blurred vision. Narcotic pain medication can also cause drowsiness and cognitive impairment.”

Chris Hind, General Manager, JN General Insurance

Chris Hind, general manager, JN General Insurance, recommends that loved ones should be emotionally supportive of senior citizens who they recognise should discontinue driving.

 “Losing the convenience of mobility and independence can be bothersome to senior citizens.

Therefore, it is important to reassure them that their transportation needs will be taken care of,” he said.

Mr Hind pointed out that seniors are required to have a medical done, as part of the motor insurance renewal process to verify that they are able to continue driving.

“The purpose of this is to reduce the risk of them becoming involved in a crash and to provide a safe driving environment for road users. As persons age, it becomes natural for them to have slower reaction times and being able to respond quickly to hazards is critical to avert a crash.”

The insurance expert said that senior citizens can reduce their risk of a crash by being conscious of their limitations when driving.

“Driving at night, in heavy traffic and in severe weather can be more problematic for senior citizens. Once they begin to feel apprehensive while driving in these situations, then it becomes a good indicator that alternative transportation arrangements should be arranged.”

He indicated other red flags senior citizens and loved ones should look out for, such as getting into minor accidents, straddling lanes, driving extremely slowly, braking suddenly, accelerating frequently or suddenly, and not readily recognizing familiar places.

A study done by the United States-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicated that a risk factor of crash fatalities for older drivers is ‘retirement vehicles.’ The study highlighted drivers 70 and over tend to drive older, smaller vehicles that are not equipped with important safety features, such as electronic stability control (ESC) and head-protecting side airbags as standard features. The research further explained that a reason older drivers have fewer safe vehicles is that they do not understand the value of advanced safety features or good safety ratings.

“It is also important that senior citizens ensure that their vehicles are regularly maintained and in excellent working condition. We want to keep our seniors on the road for as long as possible by making them as safe as possible,” Mr Hind concluded.

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