From the moment a person gets their first car, they experience a sense of freedom and mobility that can't be matched by any other conventional means. But the ability to go where one wants when they want is, unfortunately, a luxury that for some has an expiration date. For older drivers, the natural aging process can cause them to lose their driver's license and the right to drive. In other cases, drivers may begin to experience minor yet significant changes that cause them to no longer feel comfortable behind the wheel of car. For that reason, it is important for senior drivers to understand and implement safety tips that can help them adjust to new challenges and ultimately become better drivers.
Understand How Age Affects Driving
Everyone ages, and with age comes inevitable changes; however, these changes can vary in terms of severity or when they actually begin. Other changes, such as certain health conditions, are not universal and may not affect some older adults at all. All drivers should expect that at some point, they will likely become less flexible, reactive, coordinated, or even strong as they once were. This can impact their driving abilities by making it harder to steer, respond to sudden changes, change lanes, and more. Changes to one's eyesight can make their vision less accurate in dim light, or it may be difficult to see clearly at night due to glare from car lights.
Stay Healthy and On Top of Changes
Staying as healthy as possible can help prolong one's ability to safely drive. Keeping regular eye exam appointments can help drivers keep their keys and their license longer. A visit to an eye doctor will ensure that the driver's eyes are healthy and that their glasses prescription, if needed, is current. Hearing is also important when driving and should also be checked annually or as requested by a doctor. If glasses or a hearing aid are prescribed, always wear them when driving to be able to see and hear the traffic clearly. Getting a good night's sleep is also crucial: Never drive when tired.
Get Car Aids if Needed
Cars may be fitted with certain aids that can make them easier for seniors to operate. These aids include items that help cut glare or provide the driver with a panoramic rear view. Other assistive aids include items such as key extenders, brake and accelerator hand controls for the steering wheel, and pedal extenders. Generally, drivers will need to work with an occupational therapist or other professional such as a certified driver rehabilitative specialist in order to get these types of devices. Other items, such as car seat covers or seat belt covers, can make driving more comfortable for older drivers.
Become a Defensive Driver
Driving defensively puts the driver in a state of preparedness that can prove helpful for seniors. With this highly recommended technique, drivers take a defensive stance by ensuring that they are always focused on what the cars around them are doing. Drivers learn to anticipate unexpected actions, and they always drive at a safe speed. While on the road, they also keep far enough behind the cars ahead of them so that they may have enough time to brake safely. Another example of defensive driving is to look and wait before driving into an intersection when a traffic light turns green.
Know Your Limits and Heed Warning Signs
It is important to understand and heed one's limits to avoid preventable accidents. Seniors who drive should willingly make adjustments to their driving habits, such as only driving during the daylight hours if experiencing trouble at night or not driving in bad weather if they feel they are unable to safely do so. Even drivers with no current limitations should be aware of what warning signs to look out for. Having difficulty while driving is a clear warning sign that should not be ignored. These difficulties may manifest gradually, such as occasionally forgetting basic driving rules or running over curbs more frequently, for example. Near-misses from not braking fast enough or momentary confusion over which is the brake or gas pedal are also warning signs that drivers should take action to ensure their safety and the safety of others. Some drivers may even start receiving traffic citations when they never have before.
Listen to the Concerns of Others and Consider the Benefits
For some drivers, it can be hard to recognize driving difficulties and even harder to admit. Friends and loved ones, however, will likely express their concerns if they feel that one's driving has become too much of a danger. If one's doctor or driving evaluations indicate that driving should no longer be an option, it will most likely be a difficult and upsetting time. With a little consideration, however, it may not take long for them to appreciate the benefits of being car-free. Not only do they no longer have to deal with the stress and hectic pace of driving, but they can also save money on gas and routine car repairs and maintenance. When a person no longer drives, they still have many options for how to get from point A to point B, such as public transportation, driving services, taxis, walking, or senior shuttles.
- Older Drivers: Tips for Safe Driving: Get valuable advice on driving safety for seniors on the United States government's Senior Health website. Reaction time, aging-related physical changes, and medications are among the subjects that are covered here.
- National Institute on Aging: Older Drivers: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers useful tips for senior drivers from the National Institute on Aging. They address important topics such as dementia, medications, and signs that it's time to give up driving.
- Don't Ignore the Warning Signs: Signs that a senior may have problems with driving are the focus of this brief article by the Maryland Department of Transportation.
- Older Drivers: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention talk about statistics and tips for senior drivers on this Web page. Statistics and links to other resources are also included.
- Older Drivers Should Seek Help if Driving Becomes Difficult: Read about how hearing problems, arthritis, and other types of impairments can affect senior drivers by visiting this Loyola University page.
- Older Drivers: Seven Tips for Driver Safety: Click this link to go to the Mayo Clinic's two-page advice article for senior drivers.
- Driving Devices to Help Seniors at the Wheel: Vision aids, seat belt enhancements, and wheelchair lifts are some of the many devices covered in this USA Today article that are meant to improve a senior's driving experience.
- Are You Concerned About an Older Driver? What to Do: A Guide for Drivers and Caregivers (PDF): For a comprehensive look at issues involving senior drivers, read this eight-chapter booklet by the New York State Office for the Aging. Caring for and looking after an older driver, life after a senior can no longer drive, and safe driving tips are some of the topics in this document.
- AARP Driving Resource Center: Warning Signs of Unsafe Driving: Physical and mental impairments, dangerous driving behavior, and warnings from doctors are subjects discussed in this senior driving article by the AARP.
- How Caregivers Can Keep Elderly Drivers Safe: People who look after elderly drivers can find useful advice on this page by WebMD. Readers will find helpful tips regarding car maintenance, alternative transportation, and when and how to intervene when a senior needs help or can no longer drive.
- Older Drivers: When Should You Stop Driving?: Go here to read a MedicineNet article about potential issues that affect senior drivers. In addition, they offer advice on how older drivers can adapt to the challenges of aging and when to know it's time to stop driving altogether.
- State Mature Driver Laws: Visit this page by the Governors Highway Safety Association's page to read about state laws concerning older drivers. To the right, there is also a link to an article about mature drivers.
- The Older Driver: Click this link to read the Merck Manual's comprehensive article about issues concerning elderly drivers. It also includes a link to a version that is tailored for trained medical professionals.
- Red Flags for Medically Impaired Driving: This page by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration deals with medical conditions and medications that may impair a person's ability to drive.
- Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers: Go here to read a booklet about senior drivers that is tailored for physicians.
- Drivers 65+: Visit this page by the American Automobile Association to read a brief article about older drivers and the challenges they may face. At the end is a quiz to test the reader's knowledge about the issue.
- Drugs and the Older Driver: Prescription drugs and their effects upon older drivers is the subject of this article by the Canada Safety Council. It also contains tips on avoiding driving while under the influence of medications that can impair safe driving skills as well as advice on what types of drugs can make a person dangerous while behind the wheel.