Seniors, Put Away That Phone While You're Driving!

An senior citizen uses his cell phone while driving.

If you’re on the road much, you’ve probably seen it all when it comes to distracted driving. Drivers put themselves and others at risk of injury or death as they text or talk on their cellphones, read Facebook posts, take a selfie, fiddle with their in-dash entertainment system, put on makeup, eat a breakfast sandwich…

It’s such a problem that the U.S. Department of Transportation has created the Distracted website to discourage drivers from doing things that take their eyes and their minds off the road.

The stereotype of a distracted driver is a teen driver talking or texting—but University of California San Diego researchers recently discovered that many seniors have little right to criticize their younger counterparts when it comes to engaging in risky driving habits!

The research team conducted an anonymous survey of almost 400 seniors about their driving. Said researcher Dr. Linda Hill, “The survey results found older adults are driving distracted less than their younger counterparts, but are still engaging in this dangerous behavior.” Eighty-two percent of the seniors surveyed owned a smartphone, and, said Dr. Hill, “Of those senior drivers who have a cell phone, 60 percent of them speak on the phone while behind the wheel.”

Many older adults already are dealing with certain impediments to safe driving, such as vision loss, impaired hearing, loss of flexibility and slower reflexes. Dr. Hill says, “There is concern that adding distraction to the reduced skills of some older adults will increase these crash rates even further.”

The study team reported that using the phone while driving quadruples the risk of a crash— “the same as driving with a 0.08 blood alcohol content.” Texting is even worse, raising the risk of a crash by 16 times! Stony Brook University expert Carlos Vidal explains why: “Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. When traveling at the rate of 55 mph, that's the equivalent of covering the length of a football field blindfolded."

So, don’t underestimate the danger posed by distracted driving. Put your phone in the back seat so you won’t be tempted to reach for it. If you need to make or take a call, pull over. What about hands-free devices? Statistics show they aren’t much better; if you are distracted by a phone conversation, you can’t give your full attention to your driving. What about talking with a person in the car? Experts say that is safer because the passenger can see what’s happening on the road, and will mostly likely adjust their end of the conversation accordingly. Still, it’s advised to avoid emotional or very distracting topics while you’re behind the wheel.

When It’s No Longer Safe to Drive

A senior man smiling at the camera as he goes from back seat of car into a wheelchair. His wife is holding his hand and his adult daughter is behind the wheelchair, holding the car door open.

Many seniors are able to drive safely well into their 80s and even beyond. But if medical conditions such as arthritis, vision loss or dementia make it unsafe to drive, it may be time to give up the car keys. Alternative transportation such as public transportation, taxis or rideshare services, and special transport can help seniors stay active and connected in the community. For seniors who need a little more help, professional home care may be the perfect solution to make sure they get where they need to go, whether that’s a doctor appointment, to their faith community or to visit friends.

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2017.