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Older Workers Behind the Wheel Are More At-Risk of a Crash

Steve Wagner


  • Motor vehicle crashes account for 32 percent of all work-related deaths among workers age 55 or older proving that yes, our age can affect our driving ability.
  • In fact, those age 55 and older have twice the risk of dying in a work-related crash than younger workers do.
  • That increased risk factor is mostly due to the normal decline in physical and mental abilities that comes with aging. Eyesight may be strained or motor skills like range of motion or flexibility just may not be there like it used to be and in return, impacts driving behaviors.
  • As the proportion of older workers in the United States continues to rise, it remains more important than ever for employers to recognize the adaptations and adaptive changes that may need to be made so that all workers can continue contributing to a safe workforce.

Work-Related Crash Risk Increases for Older Workers

Today, one in every five American workers is over 65, and in 2020, one in four American workers will be over 55, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And many of these workers are driving on the job and do so with a greater crash risk than those age 55 and younger. The National Center for Productive Aging and Work (NCPAW) provides employers and workers support on age-related physical and mental changes that may affect older workers’ driving. It is important for employers to recognize these changes and accommodate the driving challenges older workers may have.

How Does Aging Affect Driving Ability?

While older drivers are more likely to practice safe driving behaviors, NCPAW officials say both employers and workers should be aware of the normal physical and mental abilities that gradually decline with age. This decline may be putting them at greater risk of dying if they are in a motor vehicle crash. Here is a list of some of the common struggles older workers may have when practicing safe driving:

Eyesight: Older eyes may find it hard to see clearly, especially during the early morning hours, in fog, or at night and may become more sensitive to glare from headlights, and the sun as well. In addition, peripheral vision often declines as people age and eye diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration make it harder to read signs and see colors.

Hearing Loss: Older workers may find it harder to hear horns, trains, sirens, and noises from cars, which warn of possible danger.

Mental Abilities: Memory function, attention span, judgment, and ability to make decisions and react quickly, are required for good driving. These can gradually decline and cause older drivers to feel overwhelmed by signs, signals, pedestrians, and vehicles around them.

Motor Skills: NCPAW believes strength, flexibility, range of motion and coordination are essential for driving safely but all can decline with age.

In addition, these age-related diseases and conditions may make it more difficult for an older worker to safely operate a motor vehicle.

  • Diabetes can make blood sugar levels too high or low, which can lead to drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, loss of consciousness, or seizures.
  • Arthritis can make joints swollen and stiff, limiting movement of the shoulders, hands, head, and neck. This can make it hard to grasp or turn the steering wheel, apply the brake and gas pedals, fasten a seat belt, or look for hazards.
  • Sleep apnea, a disorder in which breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted during sleep, can increase the risk of drowsy driving.
  • Parkinson’s disease can cause a person’s arms, hands, and legs to shake. This can affect balance and movement, diminishing a driver’s ability to safely operate motor vehicle controls.
  • Use of prescribed, over-the-counter, and multiple medications may interfere with sleep quality, increasing risk for drowsy driving.

The Employer Role in Keeping Older Workers Safe While Driving

Employers are responsible for implementing safe driver policies for all workers, no matter what their age. The set of rules must highlight what workers can do to prevent driving-related injuries and reduce crash risks, as well as provide information on potentially adverse conditions and risks that may not promote health or help an employee maintain good health. Employers can do this by determining how a job’s structure or design creates physical demands and what might be done to reduce them. This means if an older worker is showing signs that they cannot operate a motor vehicle safely or at certain times, the employer can adapt to these changes to keep the older employee and others injury free and away from accident risks on the road. Employers can help manage travel plans and schedules to support older worker driving safety with these suggested tips.

  • Reducing the amount of driving workers do is the most effective way to prevent motor vehicle crashes. Consider whether the work can be done without driving.
  • Set work schedules that allow workers to obey speed limits and follow applicable rules such as hours-of-service regulations.
  • Encourage supervisors and drivers to decide on the driver’s route, destination, and travel schedule ahead of time.
  • Set policies that allow drivers to consult with their supervisors to adjust driving hours if they have trouble seeing at night, and to stop driving if they are too tired or the weather is bad.

Older Workers Need to Adhere to Safe Driving Practices

Older workers should also be taking actions to stay safe while driving for work. Simple things that apply to all drivers like wearing a seat belt, not being a distracted driver, obeying traffic laws, and never driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, are all common safe driving practices preached to drivers at any age. In addition, older workers who drive may need to follow this extra set of rules:

  • Talk with your doctor or pharmacist about the potential effects of your medications or how your medical conditions may impact driving.
  • Read medicine labels carefully and look for warnings.
  • Do not drive if you feel lightheaded or drowsy. See a doctor if you are often sleepy.
  • Stay well-rested and alert by getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep each day.
  • Get a thorough eye exam at least every 1 to 2 years, and make sure your prescription is up-to-date if you need glasses or contacts.
  • Take a driving refresher course to learn new driving strategies and recent changes in traffic laws.
  • Adjust your seat, seat belt, and head restraint to fit safely and comfortably.

Workers should not be afraid to talk to their supervisor if they are having difficulty with driving. Employers may need to change the worker’s driving habits or make necessary adjustments to the work vehicle if it is difficult to operate a motor vehicle safely.

If you have been injured in a driving accident at your workplace, the work injury attorneys at Wagner Reese are here to assist you in getting the compensation you deserve from an employer that did not do all they could to protect you. Don’t suffer under piles of medical bills. Connect with us by submitting our online form and our attorneys will review your information. If you wish to speak directly with us, please call (888) 204-8440.


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