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Tips for Seniors to Stay Safe Behind the Wheel (and Save Money!)


Today’s seniors are living longer and fuller lives than previous generations. They’re more active and independent than ever before, delaying retirement, traveling the world, and enjoying their grandchildren. They’re basically doing what they want when they want. 

And nothing says independence more than being able to drive.

But there are a lot of factors to consider for elders who want to stay behind the wheel, including safety and costs.

We’ll share tips on how you can continue to drive safely, what discounts you can get — such as AAA car insurance discounts — and what car insurance companies are best for seniors.

How can seniors drive safer?

Despite the stereotypes about older drivers, the statistics actually look pretty good.

According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), older people now keep their licenses longer and make up a larger proportion of the population than in past decades. Between 1997 and 2018, the number of licensed drivers 70 and older jumped 65 percent. And the proportion of that population with licenses increased from 73 percent to 83 percent.

Despite these growing numbers, fewer older drivers died in crashes and fewer were involved as drivers in fatal collisions during 1997-2018 than in previous decades.

Specifically, 4,973 people 70 and older died in car crashes in 2018. This is 15 percent fewer than in 1997, when deaths peaked, even though the population of people 70 and older rose. The rate of fatalities per capita among older people has decreased 46 percent since 1975.

Here are helpers for staying on the right side of those statistics.

Evaluate Your Driving Skills

A good starting point to work on delaying “driver retirement” is to have your driving reviewed. 

Don’t rely on the Department of Motor Vehicles to do that. Only two states (Illinois and New Hampshire) require a road test for seniors (at age 75). Beyond that, 22 states have a shortened renewal cycle, and 18 states require a vision test as well as set age limits on mail or online renewal.

Contact your county or city office on aging, the Veterans Administration and other rehabilitation facilities, occupational therapy driver rehabilitation specialist, or even your local hospital. There are several community resources available to conduct a formal driving assessment. This is a comprehensive driving evaluation by a trained professional, which can take two to three hours.

If you’re showing problems, don’t despair. An assessment can include flexibility exercises to keep you in good driving shape. You’ll also learn about assistive equipment that can help you drive longer, such as a pedal extender, panoramic rear-view and side-view mirrors, a seat lift, spinner knobs, and a seat belt extender.

Depending on the extent of any impairments, you may be able to continue driving but with restrictions, such as only driving during the day, driving within a certain distance of your home, or banning freeway driving.

But be aware of the signs to stop driving for older adults, including if you’ve noticed slower reflexes, deteriorating eyesight, chronic pain, getting lost, mixing up the pedals, and difficulty understanding traffic signals. You certainly don’t want to endanger yourself or others.

Hopefully, these problems haven’t impacted your driving abilities yet. But it’s still important to assess your capabilities and brush up on safety tips often.

Tips for Safe Driving

  • Know your limitations: This will help you retain your driving independence for many years.
  • Avoid driving during peak hours: Spare yourself the anxiety of driving during the morning and evening rush.
  • Avoid driving at dark: Nighttime driving gets harder even in middle age, with the lights seeming bigger and brighter. Nighttime also diminishes the distance you can see. 
  • Avoid driving in bad weather: Precipitation can not only obscure your view, but ice, snow, and sleet can make roads slicker and your car harder to control.
  • Stick to familiar roads: Driving on the roads you know will certainly lessen your chances of being surprised by and having to react to blind spots, bumps, and bends. 
  • Note any changes in medication before driving: The side effects of individual prescription medications as well as interactions between medicines might impair driving. Talk to your doctor about this. AAA also offers Roadwise RX, in which you can record your medications and get feedback on how they, as well as your over-the-counter drugs and herbal supplements, interact with each other and can affect safe driving.
  • Avoid talking on the phone while driving: It’s a good rule of thumb for all drivers to restrict cellphone use. Distracted driving is a problem for all ages, but older drivers are more likely to be distracted while driving. 
  • Keep your gas tank full: In addition to keeping your fuel pump and your fuel line in good working order, running out of fuel at highway speeds can be hazardous as brakes and power steering can be lost.
  • Pack an emergency kit: You never know how long it may take help to get to you if you’re in an accident or break down.
  • Maintain your car: Consult your owner’s manual on appropriate times for checkups, including oil changes, filter replacements, tire rotations, radiator check, and brake pad inspection. This will lessen problems from developing unexpectedly and from being severe, which can mean the difference between an inconvenience and a catastrophic accident or fire. Keeping your car in good condition will also save you money on repairs.
  • Wear your seatbelt: While older drivers are more likely to wear seatbelts, make sure it’s the proper fit. Get help determining that from CarFit, a program that promotes safe driving and mobility among older drivers by focusing on safety, comfort, and fit. It was created in collaboration with AAA, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), and the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). Go online to see how you can take part in a checkup.

How do seniors rate with car insurance?

The irony of being a senior driver is that although you have extensive driving experience, at a certain age insurance rates often start to go up.

Insurance companies justify higher rates for seniors because they pose a greater risk of being critically injured or killed during a crash. Poor sight and hearing as well as cognitive problems may impair driving capabilities, and the possibility of prescription medication can alter a driver’s perception.

How to Lower Senior Car Insurance

In addition to continuing to benefit from the variety of car insurance discounts available to most drivers, including multi-policy discounts, seniors should also keep an eye on low-mileage and age discounts, as well as discounts for certain memberships such as AAA and AARP.

When you retire or semi-retire, let your insurance company know. As you’re no longer commuting or commuting less, the reduced time behind the wheel can mean a lower rate.

Also, some states have a law that mandates an automobile insurance discount for anyone completing an approved driver improvement course.

The Best Car Insurance Companies for Seniors

Fortunately, seniors have some great choices when it comes to car insurance companies, thanks to a few that have decided to reward years of safe driving.

Your best bet is to compare rates among these companies. Even though each insurance company uses the same basic factors to determine rates, price points can vary as well as the number of discounts and the percentage of each discount. 

Here are a few options for the best auto insurance companies for seniors.

The Hartford/AARP: AARP’s partnership with The Hartford has created one of the best insurance programs available to seniors. Its 50+ AARP-branded insurance program has a 12-month locked-in rate, a guarantee that you won’t be dropped as long as you pay your premium, and a vanishing deductible, in which your deductible decreases every year you remain accident-free.

The program also offers discounts for passing a defensive driving course. It even has a benefit called RecoverCare, providing home assistance after an accident. The company also has additional insurance policies for boats, golf carts, and classic cars.

Geico: Known for low rates overall, this company is very senior-friendly. It also offers a guaranteed renewal program to drivers over 50 called Prime Time. They have a good range of discounts that include defensive driving course completion and special discounts for retired government employees and veterans.

USAA: If you’re a veteran, USAA provides some of the best-value senior’s car insurance in the country. In addition to low premiums, strong coverage, and excellent customer service, if you’ve been insured by USAA for 40 years, you’re eligible for a special senior bonus payment that goes toward your insurance premiums.

Allstate: Pricing and the large number of discounts help make Allstate a great deal for seniors. Discounts include a senior’s discount if you’re 55 or over with a safe driving record, and for safety features and security features. 

 

Karen Condor writes and researches for the car insurance comparison site, CarInsuranceComparison.com. She is an insurance expert who has worked with seniors to help them find the best coverage for their needs.