Seniors are often the most experienced drivers on the road and driving can be a source of freedom and independence in retirement. However, as we get older we are also more vulnerable to accidents on the road due to age-related changes which can impact our vision, alertness and confidence. The ratio of drivers age 81 or over of “at fault” collisions exceeds “not at fault” collisions by 2.5 times, according to the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles, reported in Dixon v. B.C. (Ministry of Justice), 2013 BCHRT 92 (CanLII).
According to the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), seniors are more likely to have collisions because of slower reaction times and when making left-hand turns, merging, going on roundabouts, driving at night and driving in bad weather. To prevent motor vehicle accident collisions it is important to be vigilant about these common driving challenges for seniors and to try reduce or prevent the challenges they pose.
Managing Slower Reaction Times
Driving is a complex task as drivers have to process information, use that information to decide a course of action, and then react based on their determination. Slower reactions times can impact each step in that process.
Before driving, there are steps you can take as a senior to improve your safety on the road, including reviewing and adjusting medications with your doctor that can cause dizziness, blurred vision or drowsiness on the road. Planning your route helps by circumventing last-minute decisions about how to reach your destination. Getting enough sleep will help you to stay awake and alert.
While driving there are other strategies to help mitigate slower reaction times. Allowing a greater distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you and avoiding busy areas and highways may benefit you. High-speed driving is stressful, so use local roads instead of highways and avoid rush hour traffic. Eliminate distractions inside the vehicle, including driving with distracting passengers and using your cell phone.
Left-hand turns are the source of collisions for many drivers, but according to CAA, for drivers 65 and over left-hand turns account for twice as many fatalities than for drivers aged 26-64. If a driver is distracted, or their visibility is compromised by their lack of mobility, making a left-hand turn may be dangerous.
In order to make left hand turns more safely make sure you take proactive measures. Signal early, such as 50 metres before the intersection. Ensure that there are no other vehicles, bicycles or pedestrians in your path and expect to yield to anyone in the crosswalk. Double-check for oncoming cars and pedestrians and, when it is safe, make the turn.
Merging can be stressful for all drivers, as it requires a driver to pay attention to things happening all around the vehicle. Most merging can be avoided by using local roads and avoiding highways. However, sometimes highways or merging are unavoidable.
When you plan to merge, check oncoming traffic. As soon as you can see traffic approaching from behind, check your mirrors and blind spot for a space to merge into. If you have not done so already, turn on your signal. Keep at least a two- to three-second distance behind the vehicle in front of you. Then, when it is safe to do so, increase your speed to match traffic and merge into the next lane.
Increasingly over the last ten years, our neighbourhoods are relying on roundabouts to govern intersections. They have an entry “splitter” that slows down or constrains speed just before moving into the roundabout. Vehicles already in the roundabout have the right of way. As you approach a roundabout, there will be a yield sign and dashed yield limit line. Here you must slow down and watch for pedestrians and be prepared to stop if necessary. When entering, yield to circulating traffic and do not stop if it is clear.
Driving at Night
Driving at night presents challenges to all drivers, due to the reduced visibility. Night driving can be especially problematic as we get older because we need more light to see clearly and because of changes in vision. You risks may be reduced by staying in local areas you know well or opting out of driving at night altogether.
You can increase your ability to drive safely at night if you are confident to drive then. Regular vision checks will ensure that your prescription eyewear is up to date. Avoid looking directly into the lights of vehicles going the other direction or at the lights of an oncoming vehicle and, instead, look ahead or towards the roadside. Drive carefully to be able to stop for any obstacles. Remember to keep your eyes moving and watch for sudden flashes of light that may indicate that there are oncoming vehicles ahead.
Driving in Bad Weather
For all drivers, the best way to avoid the challenges of driving in bad weather is to avoid going out in your vehicle or pulling over into a rest area or parking lot until conditions improve. However, sometimes this is not possible, however.
If you must travel in rain, fog or snow make sure to leave early, give plenty of extra time, and drive slowly, according to the road conditions. You should check your vehicle in advance to ensure your tires, wipers and lights are in good shape and carry an emergency kit with you. In winter weather, make sure you have cleared all snow and ice from the vehicle. If you have a cell phone, make sure it’s charged, for emergencies.
Requirements for Seniors 80+
In order to protect the safety of individual drivers and the general public, it is the policy of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles to require drivers approaching age 80, and every two years thereafter, to undergo a Drivers Medical Examination Report completed by a physician, regardless of whether there is any evidence of a known or possible medical condition. Recognizing that nobody is a perfect driver, the driver must demonstrate that he or she can drive reasonably safely.
Section 92 of the B.C. Motor Vehicle Act authorizes the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles to direct ICBC to cancel a driver’s licence or impose conditions on the driver’s licence if the driver has a medical condition affecting his or her fitness and ability to drive. In addition to these regular exams, health professionals must report patients of any age, whom they believe are unfit to drive and are continuing to drive, under section 230 of the B.C. Motor Vehicle Act. Family members and citizens can send a confidential report to RoadSafetyBC to relay concerns about a driver’s ability to drive safely.
Contact Taylor & Blair LLP Personal Injury Lawyers
At Taylor & Blair LLP Personal Injury Lawyers, we seek to keep you safe on the road. In Vancouver, North Vancouver, Surrey, Burnaby, Richmond, Port Coquitlam, our accident lawyers have represented countless seniors and others who have been injured in motor vehicle collisions. If you or a loved one has been injured in a motor vehicle accident in Vancouver or elsewhere in B.C., call us to arrange your free legal consultation at 604-737-6900.