Safe Driving For Older Adults

senior driver safetyThere aren't many decisions you can make that will change your lifestyle more than stopping to drive. Driving gives you independence, freedom and self-reliance. Hang up your keys and you'll have to come up with a plan to avoid isolation and loneliness. That said, there are plenty of good reasons to stop driving as we age, primarily your safety and that of those around you.

This article will discuss some of the causes conspiring to take away your keys, the resources that can help you drive a little longer and some tests to determine if it's still safe for you to drive.

Why Driving Gets More Dangerous As We Age

Some research has shown that older drivers on the whole are safer drivers than their younger peers. They drink and drive less, follow the speed limit more and use their seatbelts. Moreover, research has also shown that some older drivers have similar driving skills to middle aged drivers. So there is no one sized fits all stereotype that hold true.

That said, it's also true that drivers over 80 years old have more accidents than any other age group. No one doubts that there are changes that take place as we age that make driving less safe. The challenge is knowing when we're being afflicted by those changes. In some cases we can observe those changes ourselves, as with declining vision. In other cases we can't as with dementia.

1. Declining vision

If you can't see well, or have blind spots in your vision, you shouldn't drive. Even if you can see other cars on the street, you still may not be safe. Can you see the sign that warns you're entering a one way street? Can you the child 300 yards away walking on the cross walk? Our vision tends to decline at a faster rate as we age. Get your vision checked at least once per year.

2. Medications

Older adults tend to be on more medications than younger adults. Some medications cause drowsiness, dizziness or confusion. This can be especially true if you mix your medications with alcohol. It's critical you ask your doctor if it's safe for you to drive with your medications and if there are any combinations you should avoid.

3. Reaction Times

As we age our reaction times get slower. Play video games with your grandchildren if you're not convinced. That said, you don't need the reaction time of an F-16 pilot to drive safely. But you do need to be able to stop quickly if a car pulls in front of you unexpectedly. You can get yourself tested to determine if you're reacting at a safe level.

4. Memory

The danger isn't forgetting your destination or how to get home. The danger is forgetting to put on your headlights, to strap on your seat belt and to stop at a red light. It's important to meet with family members and doctors to evaluate your cognitive functioning. If you're suffering from dementia or alzheimer's it may be time for a consultation.

5. Hearing

Hearing may be more important for driving than you think. You need to be able to hear a horn warning you there's someone in your blind spot, a siren warning you there's an ambulance coming through an intersection, or a warning signal that your trunk is open. The good news is, you can get hearing aids that can dramatically improve your condition, so don't hesitate to get your hearing checked once a year.

6. Cognitive Ability

Most of us experience cognitive decline as we age. Identifying it as a danger to driving is a lot more challenging than recognizing poor eyesight. However, if you put your car into reverse instead of drive, have difficulty changing lanes or have difficulty adjusting to speedier traffic, it's worth looking into.

7. Flexibility

You don't have to have arthritis for flexibility to become an issue. If you have difficulty turning your steering wheel in one motion or difficulty using your mirrors or checking your blind spot, you may want to either work on your flexibility or consider testing your driving aptitude.

Stay On The Road Longer With These Driver Safety Resources

There are plenty of resources you can tap into to help you determine if it's still safe to drive. Here are just a few:

1. Self / Caregiver Evaluation Test

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends suggests you ask the following questions of yourself or a loved one/ Are you:

  • Getting lost on routes that should be familiar?
  • Noticing new dents or scratches to the vehicle?
  • Receiving a ticket for a driving violation?
  • Experiencing a near-miss or crash recently?
  • Being advised to limit/stop driving due to a health reason?
  • Overwhelmed by road signs and markings while driving?
  • Taking any medication that might affect driving safely?
  • Speeding or driving too slowly for no reason?
  • Suffering from any illnesses that may affect driving skills?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, it's time to consult with a doctor or family member to determine appropriate recourse. It could be as simple as getting new glasses or a new prescription. Or it could be more serious.

Additional questions include:

  • How is your eyesight? Can you recognize people across the street, see street signs from a distance, do oncoming headlights bother you?
  • How is your control over your car? Can you turn the steering wheel easily, look over your shoulder to see your blind spot, mover your foot from the accelerator to the break pedal easily?
  • Does driving make you nervous, overwhelmed, or anxious?
  • Are others concerned about your driving? Family, friends, neighbors?
  • Do you drive young kids?

2. Driver Safety Checklist for Older Adults

Take the AARP self-assessment driving test, to determine your fitness to continue driving. At the end of the test you'll get a score which will tell you whether you should continue driving or not. Make sure to answer honestly. Don't put yourself or others at risk.

3. Senior Driver Safety & Improvement Courses

Ok, so your skills have declined a little, you want to continue driving, but you want to do so safely. Take one of the many driver safety classes designed specifically for older adults.

  • Take an online driver safety class.
    • You can do so through the Department of Motor Vehicles for only $27.95. You'll get a certificate when you complete the course, and in some states such as New York, it will actually reduce your insurance by 10%!
    • You can also take the AARP Online Roadwise Driver course for only $15.95. You should also receive a discount with your car insurance company after completing the course.
  • Take a driver safety course
    • AARP Driver Safety Program take online and classroom courses on driving safety. Furthermore, check AARP's local listings for a driving school near you.
  • Get the right car
    • CarFit, developed by AAA, AARP and the American Occupational Therapy Association, offers workshops throughout the country to help see how you fit in your vehicle and offer suggestions on how to improve your comfort, safety and fit. They can help you adjust your steering wheel, mirrors, seat, etc...