Drink and drugs enjoy high profile media attention and are normally thought of as the provenance of the younger generation, night clubs, binges etc. Whilst there are specific legal requirements around drivers, the reality is we should think in terms of every road user be they driver, passenger, pedestrian or mobility scooter user. The use / dependency of medication with seniors is in a word prolific.
Drugs is not just about the illegal substances, it covers all medication whether prescribed or purchased over the counter in a pharmacy. As noted elsewhere ‘seniors’ reactions are slowed as a normal part of ageing. Many medications have a sedative effects which further inhibit reaction times. Hence, particularly for drivers, they could fail a police drugs test, a test which is applied unilaterally irrespective of the origination of the drug / medication.
All medications affect people differently in terms of side effects and this is where ‘self-regulation’ can become extremely difficult. If in any doubt it is essential advice is sought from a pharmacist or physician. Although the police drugs test is primarily about drivers, all other road users have a moral responsibility to themselves and others notwithstanding there could be ramifications if impairment is implicit in the cause of an accident.
Drink (alcohol): the most common question is ‘what is the safe limit’? The most accurate and appropriate answer is there is no safe limit and this is true for anybody not just drivers. Leaving aside impairment issues there are numerous long term adverse effects medically even from relatively small intake amounts.
Any alcohol of any strength will slow reaction times and this has to be added to already slowed reaction times documented elsewhere so the accumulative effect can be profound.Alcohol can and often reacts adversely with medication thus potentially adding to impairment to a person of any age group but particularly seniors.
Metabolisms vary from person to person so yet another potentially adverse factor. Drink is measured in units and theoretical drink drive limits are 4 units for men and 3 units for women with a small glass of standard (relatively low alcohol content) wine counting as one unit and a glass of standard lower alcohol beer counting as two units.
Theoretically the body takes an hour to absorb a unit and a further hour to process and rid every unit consecutively. Glasses of wine generally come in three sizes – 125ml, 175ml and 250ml and many establishments now sell the 175ml as a small or standard plus few wines come now as lower alcohol. So it can be readily seen using units as a guide to staying safe is both questionable and unreliable.
There are many myths regarding drinking and minimising effects by eating a large meal, drinking black coffee, interspersing with water etc. The advice has to be by all means enjoy a drink but do so in a safe place and allow ample time for the effects to wear off. Use the units theory conservatively and add a reasonable safety margin. Remember seniors are more prone to adverse effects for reasons outlined.
Seat belts are not only a legal requirement for both drivers and passengers but an absolute necessity.
Among the senior population there are a significant percentage whom will use seat belts on motorway or long journeys but think it is OK to go without on more local journeys or ones they perceive to have little traffic. The reality is the chances of having an accident locally, on a quiet road, a rural lane are some 8 times greater than on a motorway or major trunk route.
Many road deaths for drivers and passengers could be avoided if seat belts are worn correctly. Head butting the windscreen in an older person will inevitably result in a brain bleed and likely fatality.