What Goes Wrong for Seniors?

In simple terms for all road users, drivers, passengers, pedestrians and motor scooter users the problems are:

  • lack of awareness
  • hazard perception and interpretation
  • slowed reactions
  • knowledge and preparedness.

More often than not these are things in senior life which creep up slowly and largely go unnoticed until a problem occurs.

At road junctions – particularly higher speed roads

The biggest single cause of serious road accidents involving seniors is at road junctions particularly so on ones with higher speed limits. For the initial assessment a seniors ‘thinking’ time is slower than a younger
counterpart. Assessing the speed of an oncoming vehicle will be more difficult and the time to react and actually move will be slowed. Consequently there is poor judgement for a safe egress and this can be the scenario without other medical or limiting factors.

Not updating roads knowledge and skills

Many older road users (drivers and pedestrians) have become set in their ways. They may fail to recognise the changes which are going on around them particularly with increasing traffic volumes and changes with highways management. Likewise they do not update their skills or acquaint themselves with change. Furthermore they dismiss changes to themselves as a part of natural ageing and consequently do not make necessary adjustments nor give ‘medical self-regulation’ due diligence.

Highways management and driving generally is forever changing. There is a responsibility on drivers (and passengers, pedestrians and mobility users) to keep abreast of changes despite there being no formal process for this to happen. Despite driving and using highways by all being a hostile environment with the potential to kill or maim there is, unlike almost any other validated learning, any requirement to mandatory update knowledge and skills and qualify competence.

Automatic / semi-automatic transmission

A little recognised problem is that of automatic / semi-automatic transmission and older drivers. A lot of older drivers opt for ‘automatic’ – their manual licence will allow them to do this without further training or testing, however there are pitfalls. Whilst it may be easier physically, there are some dangers.

Safeguards are in place for starting automatic vehicles i.e. the need for Park to be selected, handbrake and depressing the foot brake pedal. However, once started and running, if the driver is not meticulous in selecting P and applying the handbrake when stationery, if the driver misplaces their foot they can move off at speed without stalling. If reactions are not sharp or panic sets in the vehicle can remain out of control and do untold harm.

There have been a number of high profile collisions of this nature – one current local one whereby a ‘senior’ lady got out of the car to pay at a hospital car park machine. The car started to roll and she put one foot back into the car to apply the foot brake but hit the accelerator – the car moved at speed and killed a 95 year old pedestrian. Had P been engaged the accident couldn’t have happened.

Not making allowances for age related factors

Drivers with mobility or agility problems may have trouble twisting to look properly at junctions. They may take an element of chance or they may rely on a front seat passenger who may or may not be a qualified driver. Even if there is a gap, it might not be sufficient related to on-coming traffic and pull away speeds, plus there will be an added delay factor in communication, notwithstanding the total responsibility rests with the driver.

Similarly drivers with agility problems will without doubt be more reliant on mirrors but may not sufficiently take to account blind spot factors. Drivers need to be aware of the need for concentration and distraction but so too passengers particularly around complex and difficult driving situations. This applies also to pedestrians.

Journey planning and preparation

Finding routes to suit ability / confidence is important. So too is the time of travel. The time required to complete a journey is of no relevance – it is as long as it takes ‘safely’; this should not be governed by peers.