Hazardous weather conditions in winter make driving dangerous for drivers of all ages. In addition to weather-related risks, older drivers are also more likely to have health conditions that impair their ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. In fact, the American Automobile Association (AAA) confirms that fatal car accident rates increase among drivers who are 75 years old and older, compared to other age groups. It is important for every senior to make safe driving a priority this season and continue good habits throughout the year.
How Does Age Affect the Ability to Drive Safely?
Physical and cognitive changes come with aging. While there are steps every person can do to maintain good health and wellness, certain changes are inevitable. Many age-related changes impact driving, such as:
Eyesight Problems: Cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration are more common as a person ages. It is often harder to see at night and make out traffic signs and signals. Glare from oncoming traffic can be blinding, and poor visibility due to snow, rain, and fog add to vision problems. If one is 65 years old or older, it is a good idea to get a vision test at least once a year, and make sure prescriptions for glasses and contact lenses are up to date.
Hearing Loss: Seniors with age-related hearing loss may not hear other cars beeping horns or sirens from emergency vehicles. They can have trouble hearing noises coming from their own car or truck as well. After 50 years old, a hearing test is recommended at least every three years. Anyone experiencing hearing loss should share their concerns with a doctor as soon as possible.
Stiff Joints: Some degree of joint pain, inflammation, and stiffness occur with age for most people. These symptoms reduce mobility and make it difficult to operate a vehicle. For many seniors, cold winter weather exacerbates these symptoms. To maintain good mobility, stay as physically active as possible, and see a doctor when pain begins to interrupt everyday activities.
Muscle Weakness: After 30 years old, people who are physically inactive lose around three to five percent of their muscle mass. Muscle loss directly affects mobility and strength, which are important when driving. Strength and resistance training under the guidance of a physician or physical therapist can help a senior retain muscle and stay flexible.
Slowed Reflexes: In traffic, take extra time while navigating. Seniors should drive in low-traffic areas. An elderly driver should consider staying home altogether when it is snowing.
How Do I Prepare My Vehicle for Winter?
Low temperatures, snow, ice, and sleet all take a toll on vehicles. A senior preparing to drive this winter should perform routine maintenance or take their vehicle to a reputable mechanic to ensure it is ready for cold weather. Some important features to check include:
- Battery: Check for a good charge and signs of rust and corrosion. Many auto shops will test customer batteries for free.
- Brakes: It takes longer to stop in sleet and snow than on dry ground, so test brakes for excess wear and tear and service as needed.
- Lights and Mirrors: Clean dirt and debris from lights and mirrors before winter begins and after seasonal storms to maintain good visibility.
- Fluids: Check and fill antifreeze, coolant, wiper, and other fluids at the start of the season.
- Tires: Good traction is essential for safely navigating wet and icy roads. Check tired tread and pressure to prevent skidding and blowouts.
- Wipers: Wiper blades should be in good condition with no rips or tears. Drivers in very cold climates should consider installing durable winter wiper blades that remove snow quickly and effectively.
Vehicle Emergency Kit Checklist
Every vehicle should have a well-stocked emergency kit on board. A car emergency kit should include:
- Non-perishable foods
- Hats, gloves, and scarves
- Flashlight and batteries
- Flares and reflective warning triangles
- Mobile phone and portable charger
What Should I Do Before I Drive?
Before driving, every driver must remove snow and ice from their vehicle. Snow and ice make it harder to see, and snow-covered vehicles are not easily visible to other drivers and pedestrians. When de-icing a vehicle, do not forget the roof. Large chucks of ice and snow that shift and fall off while moving can collide other vehicles and people, causing serious injuries. Drivers should do the following before leaving:
- Start the car and let it to run for a few minutes. Allow the front and rear defrosters to do most of the thawing in advance.
- Use the right tools to make the job safer. Long-handled scrapers and shovels help prevent injuries.
- Dress for the weather. Even just a few minutes in freezing temperatures can be risky. Wear layers of clothing and thick, waterproof gloves to de-ice vehicles.
- Park in a safe area. If possible, park in a garage or under an overhang to keep vehicles clean and dry.
A senior with a serious health condition should ask a friend, family member, or neighbor for assistance with cleaning their car during the winter.
What Should I Do if I Must Drive in the Snow?
Driving in the snow takes a bit of skill and a lot of patience. During and after snowfall, travel takes longer. The following are some basic winter driving safety tips for senior citizens:
- Check the weather: The weather in winter is unpredictable. Before every trip, seniors should make it habit to check the weather to ensure it is safe to travel.
- Slow down: Stopping and starting on slippery roads requires more time and space. Adjust speed in inclement weather, accelerate gradually, and slow down before braking or turning. Stopping on ice is especially dangerous and should be avoided whenever possible.
- Steer into a skid: It is natural to want to accelerate or brake when a vehicle starts sliding, but it is safer to do the opposite. Slowly steer into the direction of the skid until the tires regain traction. Seniors who do a lot of winter driving might consider investing in winter tires that provide a strong grip in snowy and icy conditions.
What Health Problems Occur in Cold Weather?
Seniors who drive in the winter should take caution to avoid weather-related health problems. Preparation is key to staying warm and safe in colder temperatures. Common health issues in winter include:
- Fall Injuries: Slip and fall accidents commonly cause injuries among senior citizens, and falls are more common in the winter when snow-covered sidewalks and driveways freeze over. Be sure to clear walkways at home or ask someone for help. Wear shoes with non-skid soles to avoid falls.
- Hypothermia: Hypothermia is a serious condition that occurs when a person’s body temperature drops down to a perilous level. Older individuals are highly susceptible to hypothermia and should take steps to prevent it. Stay indoors in extreme cold, and wear several layers of warm, dry clothing when going outside.
- Frostbite: Extreme cold temperatures can result in frostbite. Most frostbite occurs in parts of the body furthest from the heart, and without treatment, frostbite can result in the loss of limbs. The body should be entirely covered when venturing out into the cold, and seniors should go inside immediately if they notice skin turning red or feeling painful.
Winter driving is challenging for every driver, including vulnerable senior citizens. If a senior is involved in a car accident, they may have legal options available to them.
Philadelphia Car Accident Lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC Represent Senior Citizens Injured in Winter Collisions
Even the most experienced driver should be cautious in the winter. If you were involved in a serious car accident, speak to one of our Philadelphia car accident lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC. Call us at 215-569-8488 or complete our online form for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Abington, and Media, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware; and Haddonfield, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout the surrounding areas.