Automobile Accidents​—Are You Safe?

“I have a good driving record, so I don’t need to worry about having an automobile accident.” “Accidents happen only to young and reckless drivers.” Many think that an automobile accident will never happen to them. Is that the way you feel? When it comes to automobile accidents, are you invulnerable?

STATISTICS suggest that if you live in a developed country, you are quite likely to be injured in a traffic accident at least once during your lifetime. For many, such accidents prove fatal. Worldwide, there are now more than half a million traffic fatalities each year. Perhaps many of those who were killed this past year felt that it would never happen to them. What can you do to reduce your own risk? Prevention is the key. Consider how you can prevent accidents caused by drowsiness and by the effects of aging.

The Drowsy Driver

Some experts say that a drowsy driver may be as dangerous as a drunk driver. Reports indicate that drowsiness causes an increasing number of accidents. Fleet Maintenance & Safety Report recently stated that during a single year, 1 out of every 12 motorists in Norway reported falling asleep while driving. According to The Star of Johannesburg, South Africa, driver fatigue causes up to one third of all vehicular collisions in that country. Reports from other lands reveal that fatigue is affecting drivers everywhere. Why are there so many sleepy drivers?

Today’s hectic life-style contributes to the problem. Newsweek magazine reported recently that Americans may be “sleeping as much as an hour and a half less per night than [they] did at the turn of the century​—and the problem is likely to get worse.” Why? The magazine quoted sleep expert Terry Young as saying: “People have regarded sleep as a commodity that they could shortchange. It’s been considered a mark of very hard work and upward mobility to get very little sleep.”

It is said that the average person needs between six and a half and nine hours of sleep per night. When deprived, people develop a “sleep debt.” A report distributed by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety states: “Even sleeping 30 or 40 minutes less than needed each night during a normal work week can result in a 3- to 4-hour sleep debt by the weekend, enough to significantly increase levels of daytime sleepiness.”

At times, you may miss out on a good night’s rest. Insomnia, caring for a sick child, or other factors beyond your control can rob you of sleep. The next day you may well find yourself becoming sleepy behind the wheel. What should you do if this happens?

Popular remedies such as drinking caffeine, opening the window, chewing gum, or eating something spicy may not keep you awake. None  of these so-called remedies address the real problem. What you need is sleep. So why not try taking a brief nap? The New York Times suggested: “The reviving workday nap should not be longer than 30 minutes; any more and the body lapses into a deep sleep, from which it is difficult to awake.” Taking a nap might delay your arrival at your destination, but it can extend your life.

Your pattern of life can make you more susceptible to becoming a drowsy driver. Do you spend long hours on the Internet, or do you stay up late at night watching television? Do you go to social gatherings that last into the early hours of the morning? Don’t allow such practices to rob you of your sleep. Wise King Solomon once emphasized the value of even “a handful of rest.”​—Ecclesiastes 4:6.

Experienced yet Older

Older drivers are often the most experienced on the road. Moreover, they take fewer chances and know their limitations. However, older drivers are not immune to the danger of vehicle collisions. In fact, they may become more vulnerable to such accidents as they age. The U.S. magazine Car & Travel reported: “People over 70 years old make up 9 percent of the population, but 13 percent of the traffic fatalities.” Regrettably, the number of collisions involving older drivers is increasing.

Consider the observations of Myrtle, who is 80 years of age. * She started driving more than 60 years ago and has never had an automobile accident. Yet, like many others, she is feeling the effects of aging​—effects that could make her more likely to have an accident. She recently told Awake!: “As you get older, everything in life [including driving] becomes a challenge.”

What has she done to reduce the risk of having an automobile accident? “Over the years I have made adjustments to compensate for my age,” says Myrtle. For instance, she has reduced the amount of time she spends behind the wheel, especially at night. This minor change is helping her to maintain a safe record without relinquishing her car keys.

As difficult as it may be to admit, the aging process takes its toll on everyone. (Ecclesiastes 12:1-7) Various health problems arise, we react a bit more slowly, and our eyesight deteriorates​—all of which can make safe driving difficult. However, advancing age on its own does not disqualify a driver. What counts is driver performance. Acknowledging changes in our physical abilities and making appropriate adjustments in our routine can improve our performance behind the wheel.

You may not notice it, but your vision is changing. As you get older, your peripheral vision narrows and the retina needs more light. A booklet entitled The Older and Wiser Driver states: “A driver aged 60 needs three times as much light to see as a teenager, and will take more than twice as long to adjust to a change from light to darkness.” These changes in our eyes can make nighttime driving difficult.

Henry is 72 and has had a safe driving record for over 50 years. As the years passed, he began to notice that nighttime glare made it challenging to drive. After an eye  examination, he learned that he needed new glasses that were designed to reduce nighttime glare. “Driving at night is no longer difficult,” says Henry. For him this small adjustment made a big difference in his driving. For others, such as Myrtle, the solution may be to give up nighttime driving altogether.

Aging also affects a person’s reaction time. Older minds can be wiser and more sensible than younger ones. However, the older a person gets, the more time it takes to process information and react. This makes driving even more challenging, since traffic and road conditions are constantly changing. These changes must be evaluated quickly if appropriate action is to be taken in time.

Car & Travel magazine reports that “the most common cause of fatal crashes among senior drivers is that the older driver ran through a traffic control device.” Why? This same report continues: “The problem . . . seems to be related to situations in which an older driver must evaluate changing information from the left and right periphery before pulling out into an intersection.”

How can you compensate for slower reactions? Show caution when approaching intersections. Get into the habit of double-checking the traffic before you proceed. Be particularly cautious when turning. Turning at intersections can be deadly, especially if your path takes you across lanes of oncoming traffic.

In the United States, 40 percent of fatal intersection accidents for drivers over the age of 75 involve left turns. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety suggests to drivers in that country: “You can sometimes make three right turns to avoid having to make a left.” You might be able to adapt that principle to the circumstances where you live. With a little planning ahead of time, you may be able to avoid dangerous and challenging intersections.

A Decision to Consider

What can help you to evaluate your driving abilities? Perhaps you can ask a respected friend or family member to ride with you and evaluate your skills. Then, listen carefully to any observations they might have. You might also decide to take a safe-driving course. Many driving associations offer courses especially designed for older drivers. Experiencing two or more close calls could be a warning sign that your driving skills are not as good as they used to be.

Realistically, at some point it may be in your best interests to stop driving. This can be a painful decision to face. Myrtle, mentioned earlier, knows that someday soon she will have to retire from driving. As that day approaches, she is already riding more frequently with others. How does she feel about delegating the driving to someone else? “It’s nice to enjoy the ride without the stress of driving,” she says.

After giving the matter careful consideration, you may feel the same way. Shopping, running errands, and traveling to appointments and meetings can be more enjoyable with a friend. Perhaps a friend can drive you using your car. Traveling that way may be safer and more enjoyable than going alone. Using public transportation, where available, may be another practical alternative. Remember that your worth does not depend on your ability to drive. Your fine qualities are what make you truly valuable to your family and your friends​—and to God.​—Proverbs 12:2; Romans 14:18.

Whether you are older or younger, an experienced driver or a novice, you are not immune to the dangers of automobile accidents. Recognize the serious responsibility that comes with driving. Take precautions to reduce your chances of being involved in a collision. By doing so, you may protect yourself and others throughout many journeys yet to come.

[Footnote]

^ par. 13 The names in this article have been changed.

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Make sure that your body is “fueled” with a good night’s sleep

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A brief nap may cause a slight delay, but it could save lives

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Older drivers are more experienced but face special challenges

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There are advantages to traveling with a companion