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Essay Prompt: Driving is one very important way we retain our independence. As we age, however, our risk of accident increases. What are some main ways elderly people can remain safe behind the wheel? What sort of invention/device (beyond autonomous cars) would you create in order to make cars safer for the elderly?

Essay: The Center for Disease Control reported that “in 2015, more than 6,800 older adults were killed and more than 260,000 were treated in emergency departments for motor vehicle crash injuries. This amounts to 19 older adults killed and 712 injured in crashes on average every day” (“Motor Vehicle Safety”). To address the risks of elderly drivers and find ways to keep them safe, we must first understand the causes of their traffic accidents and injuries. Health declines with age, as does one’s abilities because vision, hearing and reaction speed often diminish. The solution to most problems we face start with ourselves, this is also true when it comes to ensuring senior citizens make decisions that keep them and others safe on the road. Therefore, it is vital for the elderly to get yearly physicals to ensure their health is adequate for driving. As these faculties decline, decals could help make drivers more aware and may improve road safety for the elderly. 

A “timing is everything” approach to elderly driving is also advantageous for elderly drivers. According to the American Optometric Association, various eye diseases tend to develop after the age of 60 (“Adult Vision”). With a decline in vision, night driving creates great risk. Therefore, elderly motorists should drive during the hours of daylight and if they must drive at night, avoid poorly lit routes. Along with this, they should try to adjust their schedules to reduce the instances of being on the road with several other drivers. Rush hour in the morning and evening are times when, if possible, the elderly should avoid driving because it increases the risk for accidents, especially on highways. There is also increased risk when there is inclement weather such as snow and ice, all motorists should avoid driving in these conditions when possible, so this is a great precaution for the elderly. Also, distractions such as phones and loud music should be removed to maintain safety on the road. 

Although there are now autonomous cars and several features being manufactured into vehicles to make them safer, those things often make cars much more expensive, this creates a disadvantage for those who cannot afford it and who have cars without said features. To address this, a cost-effective, transferable device should be invented that combines those safety features and doubles as an easy-to-use GPS. These safety features would include sensors that detect lane departures, lane changes (to alert the driver about cars in their blind spots), and car proximity. This device would be installed into the cars of the elderly when needed and at affordable rates. Combining those features into one device system will make installation more convenient and cost effective. Currently, sensors serve as detectors and the alerts pass through the car’s audio system. The all-purpose device system, called the “Buddy System” I have in mind would become the alert system itself. This would allow for easier installation because the device circumvents the need to work on the audio system of the vehicle. In theory, once a senior citizen starts to have vision, hearing, and sight deficits, they would get the sensor device installed in the appropriate location and have the alert device installed on the inside of the vehicle, while also having the option to use it as a GPS. This device would be elder-friendly, meaning that the font would be large, it would be easy to operate, and it would have the option to be voice controlled. The Buddy System would make it easier for the elderly motorist to operate the GPS and decrease the chance of crashing because it is a hands-free device. Also, states could aid the Buddy System by making road infrastructure elder-friendly. Adding a reflective coating to road signs/lanes and increasing the font size on road signs would provide a great advantage to elderly motorists with visual deficits (Trentacoste). 

Elderly drivers should always ensure that they are in good health, taking medication as prescribed, being well rested, and being honest with themselves and others about their abilities. Family members and caretakers should also remain aware of the abilities of their elderly family members/patients because it can be difficult for them to openly admit their inability to drive. Giving up their keys takes away from the independence they cling to daily for survival. When the time comes to have a discussion with someone elderly about their inabilities and handing over the keys, a compassionate approach is vital because this may change the course and quality of their lives. Meanwhile, there are many elderly people who can drive safely, and I believe that the Buddy System would help them be safer on the road. With technology so far advanced, there are endless possibilities and they should be explored to save the lives of the several thousand elderly motorists injured and killed each year. 

Works Cited
  • “Adult Vision: Over 60 Years of Age.” American Optometric Association, 2018, www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/good-vision-throughout-life/adult-vision-19-to-40-years-of-age/adult-vision-over-60-years-of-age?sso=y#2.
  • “Motor Vehicle Safety.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Nov. 2017, www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/older_adult_drivers/index.html.
  • Trentacoste, Michael F. “Spotlight on Senior Mobility.” U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration, 31 Jan. 2017, www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/publicroads/10janfeb/03.cfm. 

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