Mature Drivers are defined as age 65 and older. Maine is the “oldest” state by median age (42); 4th oldest by percentage (15%) of its population over 65. This proportion is expected to rise to 26.3% by 2030, surpassed only by the State of Florida. As we lead the nation in aging, policies we develop to address our aging population may show the way for other states. Drivers over age 65 experience more crashes per mile driven than any age group except 16 year olds according to national and Maine studies.
Mature Drivers and the problems they face as they age pertaining to roadway safety are constantly changing. MeBHS along with its partnership with the Maine Older Driver Safety Committee have created an educational campaign geared toward educating our aging Maine Residents. The campaign is designed to increase awareness of the many resources the State of Maine provides to its aging population. These resources provide information regarding methods to keep mature drivers safe while operating an automobile.
Mature drivers often face impairments in three functions that affect driving abilities: vision, cognition and motor function.
Adequate visual acuity and field of vision are critical for safe driving but tend to decline with age. Glare, impaired contrast sensitivity, and increased time needed to adjust to changes in light levels are problems commonly experienced by mature drivers.
Driving requires a variety of high-level cognitive skills, including memory, visual processing, attention and executive skills. Certain medical conditions (such as dementia) and medications that are common in the older
population have a large impact on cognition.
- Motor Function
Motor abilities such as muscle strength, endurance and flexibility are necessary for operating vehicle controls and turning to view traffic. Even prior to driving, motor abilities are needed to enter the car safely and fasten the seat belt. Changes related to age and diseases such as arthritis can decrease an individual's ability to drive safely and comfortably.
Changes in vision, physical strength and cognition can contribute to a loss of self-confidence in the ability to operate a motor vehicle. However, losing one's driver’s license is equated by some older adults as a loss of independence and personal freedom. Faced with this choice, some mature drivers risk personal injury rather than give up their license.
According to the American Medical Association, mature drivers (also known as older drivers) have a higher risk of traffic fatalities not only because they tend to be involved in more motor vehicle crashes per mile driven than middle-aged drivers, but also because they are more physically fragile than their younger counterparts.
State motor vehicle and local law enforcement agencies have different perspectives on the risks of mature drivers. As the driving population ages, states are beginning to enact legislation putting certain restrictions on drivers. The State of Maine requires mature drivers to:
- If 65 years of age or older, renew their license every 4 years.
- If 40-61 years of age, have a vision test at every other renewal.
- If 62 years of age or older, have a vision test at every renewal.
Mature Driver Safety Tips
As more and more Maine drivers mature, they and their families face a whole new set of challenges when it comes to operating a motor vehicle. The fact is that we all age differently. However, there are certain physical factors that deteriorate as we age and affect our proficiency behind the wheel.
Here are a few helpful tips for older drivers to safely meet the demands of driving:
- As you age, have regular eye and medical exams to maintain your driving abilities. Good near and distance vision is needed to drive safety.
- Aging eyes become more sensitive to bright light and glare, so limit nighttime driving. Try to avoid looking directly into headlights of approaching vehicles.
- Avoid stressful driving situations such as rush hour travel, driving at night or driving in bad weather. Plan trips for daytime hours after 9 a.m. and before 5 p.m. to avoid rush hour traffic. Plan ahead. Know your route and try to stay on familiar roads.
- Avoid travelling in bad weather, if at all possible.
- Avoid taking medications before driving. Many medications, prescription and over-the-counter, cause drowsiness and can affect safe driving.
- Maintain a safe speed and look ahead. Controlling your speed and looking down the road for possible hazards allow you to make adjustments before encountering a problem.
- Always keep a safe distance from the vehicle ahead of you. A four-second gap between you and the vehicle in front of you is recommended.
- When driving long distances, especially in winter, call ahead for weather and road condition updates.
The following are some warning signs a mature driver and the mature driver's family should look for in terms of when it may be time to limit or stop driving altogether:
- Feeling uncomfortable, nervous or fearful when driving
- Unexplained dents and scrapes on the car, fences, mailboxes, garage doors, etc.;
- Frequent "close calls" (i.e. almost crashing);
- Getting lost;
- Slowed response to unexpected situations;
- Difficulty staying in the lane of traffic;
- Trouble paying attention to signals, road signs and pavement markings;
- Trouble judging gaps in traffic at intersections or highway entrance/exit ramps;
- Medical conditions or medications which may be affecting abilities to handle a car safely;
- Frequent traffic tickets or "warnings" by traffic or law enforcement officers in the last two years.
Here are some resources that you can go to for information regarding methods to keep you safe while driving: