In terms of their behavior behind the wheel, seniors tend to be among the safest drivers. As a whole, they observe speed limits, always wear seatbelts and rarely drink or text and drive. Equally important, they have the invaluable benefit of decades of driving experience on the road.
The AAA says “driving safely is a complex and often demanding task, even for an experienced senior driver, but driving challenges do arise.” Many older adults are perfectly capable of driving safely, yet physical and mental changes that often come with aging can affect how well older adults drive. Seniors are prone to such risk factors as declining eyesight, hearing loss, slower reaction times, mental confusion and the potential unwelcome side effects of various medications.
To minimize the risk, it is vitally important for seniors to confront the normal impairments that typically accompany older age. Here are some tips to consider to help seniors drive safely:
- Consult with Eye Doctor. As we age, it becomes progressively harder to clearly see things from the driver’s seat, such as street and traffic signs. Eye diseases like glaucoma and cataracts can also present challenges while driving. If you are 65 or older, it is important to see your eye doctor at least every one to two years for a check-up. Make sure your eyeglasses or contact lens prescription is up-to-date and always wear them when driving. Reduce or stop driving at night if you have trouble seeing in the dark, and try to avoid driving during sunrise and sunset, when sun glare can interfere with your line of sight.
- Get Hearing Checked. While driving, you may find it difficult to hear horns, sirens or noises from your car and other vehicles. It is critical to hear these types of sounds because they often serve as warnings for drivers to take a certain necessary action. After the age of 50, have your hearing checked every year. Discuss any hearing concerns with your doctor; you may be in need of a hearing aid. Try to keep the inside of your car as quiet as possible by keeping the radio off, limiting conversation with others in the car and avoiding cell phone usage.
- Manage Slower Reaction Time. As we age, we may not be able to react as quickly as we used to because of slower reflexes, weak muscles or arthritis, for example. To deal with this challenge, it is important to leave a generous amount of space between you and the car in front of you, and to increase that space as you increase your speed. When you need to stop your car, hit the brakes early. If you feel particularly concerned, you can choose to avoid high traffic areas or times of day when possible, and if you must drive on a highway, you can choose to stay in the right lane. You may also want to take a defensive driving course to brush up on your skills.
- Know Medication Side Effects. Certain medications have side effects that can affect one’s driving. If you feel lightheaded or drowsy, do not drive. Read medicine labels carefully and look for any specific warnings. Consult with your doctor about how your medicine may affect your driving.
There are also practical alternatives to driving that you may want to consider. They include public transportation, which typically offers reduced prices for older adults; ride sharing with family members, friends and neighbors; medical facility shuttle service for doctor’s appointments; taxi or private driver service; walking or bicycling; and motorized wheelchair usage.
You can help protect yourself and the lives of others on the road by taking these proactive steps. When behind the wheel, it is important to always keep safety top-of-mind.