Older drivers at work bring extensive skills, knowledge, and experience built over the course of a lifespan. Research shows that older drivers are more likely – than their younger counterparts – to adopt safe behaviors such as wearing a seat belt and complying with speed limits.
However, those age 55 and older have twice the risk of dying in a work-related crash than younger workers do. One possible reason is that older persons are more likely to be injured if they are in a crash, and more likely to die if they are injured.
Physical and mental changes that are a normal part of aging – such as declining eyesight, hearing, physical strength, and memory – can affect one’s ability to drive safely. However, the relationship between aging and safe driving is not so simple. Older individuals tend to practice better driving habits, such as wearing seat belts and following speed limits, and they are less likely than younger persons to be involved in a crash. But, they are at a higher risk of injury or death if involved in a crash, in part because the body becomes more vulnerable to severe injury with age.
By 2020, it is estimated that 30% of Americans and 25% of all workers will be 55 years and older, and 40 million licensed drivers will be 65 years and older.
Reference: NIOSH . Older drivers in the workplace: how employers and workers can prevent crashes.(NIOSH) Publication 2016–116.
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How does aging affect driving ability?
While older drivers are more likely to practice safe driving behaviors, both employers and workers should be aware that it is normal for physical and mental abilities to gradually decline with age — putting them at greater risk of dying if they are in a motor vehicle crash.
- Eyesight often worsens with age. Older eyes need more light and more time to adjust when light changes, so it can be hard to see clearly, especially at dawn, dusk, and night. Older drivers may become more sensitive to glare from headlights, street lights, and the sun.
- Peripheral vision — the ability to see to the side or up and down while looking ahead — often declines as people age, increasing their risk of crashes.
- Eye diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration become more common with age, making it harder for older drivers to read signs and see colors.
- Age-related hearing loss can make it harder to hear horns, sirens, and noises from cars, which warn of possible danger.
- Several diseases and conditions can affect the ability to drive:
- Diabetes can make blood sugar levels too high or low, which can lead to drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, loss of consciousness, or seizures.
- Arthritis can make joints swollen and stiff, limiting movement of the shoulders, hands, head, and neck. This can make it hard to grasp or turn the steering wheel, apply the brake and gas pedals, fasten a seat belt, or look for hazards.
- Sleep apnea, a disorder in which breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted during sleep, can increase the risk of drowsy driving.
- Parkinson’s disease can cause a person’s arms, hands, and legs to shake. This can affect balance and movement, diminishing a driver’s ability to safely operate motor vehicle controls.
- Other chronic diseases and the use of prescribed, over-the-counter, and multiple medications may interfere with sleep quality, increasing risk for drowsy driving.
- Motor skills, essential for driving safely, can decline with age:
- Strength is vital for many driving tasks such as pressing down on a brake pedal.
- Range of motion is important for fastening a seat belt or turning to look for vehicles and objects.
- Flexibility allows the body and joints to move more freely, making it easier to observe the road from all angles. This can help with many driving tasks, including looking to the sides and rear of the car, steering, and parking.
- Coordination helps the upper and lower body work together in situations such as simultaneously braking and turning.
- Mental abilities, including memory, attention span, judgment, and ability to make decisions and react quickly, are required for driving. These can gradually decline with age, making older drivers feel overwhelmed by signs, signals, pedestrians, and vehicles around them.
NIOSH Fact Sheet – Older Drivers in the Workplace: How Employers and Workers Can Prevent Crashes
This fact sheet gives employers and workers information on age-related physical and mental changes that may affect older workers’ driving. It is important to accommodate these changes so older workers may continue to contribute their expertise to the workplace under the safest conditions possible.
Source: Older Drivers in the Workplace: How Employers and Workers Can Prevent Crashes [6 pps -PDF – 1.38 MB]
Older Driver Safety Awareness Week
Older Driver Safety Awareness Week aims to promote understanding of the importance of mobility and transportation to ensuring older adults remain active in the community—shopping, working or volunteering—with the confidence that transportation will not be the barrier to strand them at home.
Safe Driver Resources & Tools
- NIOSH Motor Vehicle Safety
Explore work-related motor vehicle safety topics and resources.
- Medications and driving
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recom- mends resources to help you learn how medi- cations can affect driving.