Are you too old to drive? Things to consider before hitting the road

Are you too old to drive after celebrating your 80th birthday?
WATCH: Are you too old to drive after celebrating your 80th birthday?

Prince Philip made headlines this week when he flipped his vehicle after crashing into another car.

The 97-year-old royal escaped without injury, but the other 25-year-old driver suffered cuts to her knee. There was also a nine-month-old baby on board, and the other 45-year-old passenger sustained a broken wrist.

While Prince Philip may be one of the older drivers on the road, he’s hardly the only senior still holding a licence.

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According to government data, 67 per cent of men and 26 per cent of women 85 and over had a licence. A recent survey by State Farm found that more than half of Canadians plan to keep driving past age 80.

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While drivers in Ontario need to renew their licence every two years after that (and possibly take a road test), seniors still need to be extra cautious on the road.

Aging affects driving

According to Kristine D’Arbelles, a spokesperson for CAA, there are three main age-related factors that affect one’s ability to drive.

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First, our ability to see in the dark gets worse as we get older, meaning night driving and foggy conditions pose a greater safety risk.

“As we age, our pupils get smaller, which means they have to dilate more in the dark,” D’Arbelles told Global News. “At the age of 60, we need three times as much light to see as [we do] when we are 20.”
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Another major factor is our ability to hear. According to the Canadian Hearing Society, more than 60 per cent of seniors over the age of 65 have age-related hearing loss.

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“When a driver honks at you… sometimes they are warning you of imminent danger,” D’Arbelles said. “If you’re having difficulty hearing and you miss that honk or warning, you could potentially end up in a collision.”

Lastly, D’Arbelles said motor skills may deteriorate the older we get.

“Motor skills are a bit more personal because everyone ages differently… but as we age, we may find that our reaction time is a little bit slower making it harder to manage certain driving situations,” D’Arbelles said. “One simple example is arthritis.”

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If you’re unable to perform a shoulder check because of limited mobility, for example, that affects your ability to safely change lanes and check your blind spot.

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It’s harder to recover from an accident as you age

In 2011, a report by Transport Canada found that drivers older than 65 represented 17 per cent of car collision deaths, but made up only 14 per cent of licensed drivers.

D’Arbelles pointed to 2016 stats from Transport Canada that found there were 446 deaths in the age group of 65 and older — the highest amount of fatalities out of all cohorts.

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“One interesting thing in looking at that stat is it’s less about the riskiness… and probably more about how our bodies react after a collision,” she said.

“If you actually look at stats on injuries, [over 65] is not the largest cohort… the largest cohort for injuries is actually 25 to 35. So I think that the older cohort is overrepresented because it’s probably a lot harder at that age to recover from a collision.”
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Tips to reduce the risk of collisions

There are ways for seniors to reduce their chances of getting into a collision and suffering a related injury.

D’Arbelles said reducing night driving is helpful, as is avoiding going out during peak times like rush hour. If you don’t feel comfortable in parking lots, it’s OK to park further away or go shopping during off-hours.

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She also said that education is key. Having conversations around road safety, staying current on driving rules, and learning to ask for help if needed, all help to reduce driving risks.

When should seniors stop driving

D’Arbelles said there’s not one “magical age” when someone should hang up their keys, but it’s important for seniors to consider their safety and the well-being of others. If you don’t feel comfortable on the road, or feel like your reflexes aren’t what they used to be, you might benefit from being a passenger.

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State Farm spokesman John Bordignon previously told Global News that there shouldn’t be a “cut-off age” for drivers, as circumstances vary from person to person.

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“What we’re hoping for is to drive conversations among families,” Bordignon said, adding that medical professionals should be consulted for advice.

D’Arbelles echoed this sentiment and said older adults should make a plan to reduce their driving as they get older, which may largely depend on their health, location and lifestyle.

“One of the things that we like to talk about at CAA is less about the stopping of the driving, but as we age… the way that we drive should also gradually change,” D’Arbelles said. “We all have plans for what we’re going to do when we retire… but rarely is driving taken into consideration.”

“One day, we don’t have it, but there’s no thought about how we slowly decrease our driving.”

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— With files from Maham Abedi