America’s aging population includes many people over the age of 55 who drive to and from work and have jobs that require driving. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates that by 2020, 25 percent of workers will be aged 55 or older, and there will be 40 million licensed drivers. Also, motor vehicle crashes account for 32 percent of work-related deaths among workers aged 55 or older. Generally, older drivers are better drivers, who are more likely to practice safe driving. But NIOSH points out that because of declining mental and physical faculties, older drivers are at greater risk of dying if they are in a motor vehicle crash. All this strongly indicates that both the employers of older drivers and the drivers themselves must make a firm commitment to understanding the particular risks that older drivers face and taking actions that meaningfully lessen those risks.
NIOSH has published a fact sheet on the physical and mental conditions that may impair older drivers and the measures that both employers and employees should undertake to avoid life-threatening incidents.
Following are important points NIOSH makes in the fact sheet.
- Aging is often accompanied by a decline in vision and hearing, both critical to safe driving. Older drivers need more light and more time to adjust when light changes, so it can be hard to see clearly, especially at dawn, dusk, and night. Older drivers may become more sensitive to glare from headlights, streetlights, and the sun. Age-related hearing loss can make it harder to hear horns, sirens, and noises from cars, which warn of possible dangers.
- Illnesses, such as diabetes, can lead to drowsiness, while arthritis and Parkinson’s disease can limit a driver’s ability to steer, brake, and turn quickly to see behind them or to the sides. NIOSH points out that declining coordination may make it challenging for some older drivers to perform two actions at once, i.e., turning and braking.
- Declining mental abilities limit attention span, judgment, and ability to make decisions and react quickly, particularly in stressful situations, such as heavy traffic or where there is a high concentration of pedestrians.
Measures to Take
In work situations, the responsibility to follow procedures that promote safe driving rest with both the employer and the employee. For example:
- Employers should:
- Consider whether the work can be done without driving.
- Set work schedules and deadlines that encourage workers to obey speed limits.
- Establish a driver’s route ahead of time.
- Ban texting and handheld phone use during driving and consider banning the use of hands-free phones.
- Allow workers to take a nap of less than 30 minutes by stopping in a safe location if they are too tired to drive safely.
- Assess driving ability rather than rely on an assessment of general health to determine how safely an employee can drive.
- Provide refresher training that includes topics such as changes in road rules, regulations on distracted driving, and new vehicle safety features.
- Employees should:
- Use their seat belt at all times and require passengers to do the same.
- Not drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Talk with their doctors or pharmacists about any potential effects of medication on driving.
- Talk with their doctors about how their medical conditions may affect driving.
- Maintain good health through physical exercise, a balanced diet, and getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.
- Get an eye exam every 1 to 2 years.
Workers in some jobs will resist informing their employers about any age-based conditions that limit their driving ability. Accordingly, employers must be vigilant to identify potential problems and act in a manner that will protect the well-being of workers and others who may be endangered by unsafe driving.
The NIOSH fact sheet is available here.