As we age our strength, flexibility and co-ordination is lessened and that affects safe driving. You may have a driving record of which you can be justifiably proud but as you get older driving ability can change and it is important for your safety and that of others to recognise it. In 2012, 12 of the 33 fatalities were aged over 60. Here are some tips for safe driving for seniors:
It is important to react quickly in some driving situations.
- Is it comfortable to look back over your shoulder or does it take extra effort?
- Have you become flustered when driving, or quick to anger?
- Can you react quickly enough if you need to brake suddenly?
- Have you ever confused the accelerator and brake pedals?
Sensitivity to light, trouble seeing in the dark or blurred vision or peripheral vision problems can be caused by eye conditions and/or medication.
- Can you react quickly and appropriately to drivers coming from behind or to the side?
- Can you easily see traffic lights and street signs well before you are near them or do you slow down as you get closer to see what sign it is?
Reduced hearing can result in not recognising emergency sirens, if someone is accelerating next to you, or honking the horn.
Make sure medication you may be taking, or a combination of medication, does not affect your senses and/or reflexes. The medication label will tell you about any side effects that may affect driving and if you are taking several medications, talk to your doctor if you notice a difference after starting a new medication.
Everyone has occasional memory lapses and if they are becoming more than that you should be evaluated by your doctor. For example, do you often miss a familiar turn-off or have you become lost more often than in the past? Have you forgotten to turn off the indicator after you have turned or changed lanes?
Have you had any close calls such as getting dents and scrapes on the car or on fences, mailboxes, garage doors, and curbs?
Getting older does not automatically mean you will not be able to drive as safely as you used to. Ageing does not automatically equal total loss of driving ability. To continue to drive safely there are many things you can do including modifying your car, the way you drive, and understanding and rectifying physical issues that may interfere with driving.
- Have your sight and hearing tested annually and if you need to wear glasses and/or hearing aids, ensure you do.
- Get plenty of sleep which is essential to driving well. Talk to you doctor if you are not sleeping well.
- Ensure the windshield, mirrors, and headlights are clean and turn brightness up on the instrument panel on your dashboard.
Know your limitations
- Never drive in a situation or conditions in which you do not feel comfortable or confident.
- Like many seniors, you may decide to drive only during daylight hours if you have trouble seeing well at night.
- If you do not like fast-moving traffic, avoid driving at peak traffic times and/or busy roads and find less congested alternative streets.
- You may also decide not to drive in rainy, misty or icy conditions. If you are going to a place you have not been before, or for a while, it is a good idea to plan your route before you leave so you will be more confident and avoid getting lost.
Listen to others
If your family or friends talk to you about your driving, it may be time to take a hard and honest look at your driving ability, think about how you are driving and if you feel you are driving as well as you used to. If you are in doubt, your doctor should be able to provide an opinion about your ability to drive safely, or refer you to a specialist for more intensive evaluation.
How to talk to a loved one about driving concerns
A driver’s licence is a symbol of freedom and self-sufficiency and not readily given up, but the safety of all road users is the most important thing.
If the issue is raised with the senior they may even feel relief to have someone else help make the decision to stop driving. If you want to talk to an older friend or family member about their driving, remember:
- Be respectful. Driving and independence go together for many seniors and many have fond memories of getting a driver’s license. At the same time, don’t be intimidated or back down if you have a genuine concern about their ability to drive safely.
- Give specific examples. Talk about your concerns and be as specific as you can, for example, “I noticed the last three times you drove you braked suddenly even though there was no need to”.
- Authority. A senior may be more inclined to listen to a respected authority figure such as a doctor whom they may see as more impartial than a family member or friend.
- Alternatives. A senior who has driven for decades and not used other transport may have not considered alternatives to driving. Provide suggestions on other ways of getting around such as lifts with friends or family members, buses and/or taxis. There are taxi fare concessions for some seniors, see here.
- Understand the difficulty of the transition. Your loved one may have a profound sense of loss over no longer driving. Don’t dismiss their feelings but try to help with the transition as much as possible. If it is safe, try slowly transitioning the senior out of driving to give them time to adjust. For example, you could start by not driving on busy roads at busy times of day and by getting a lift to appointments.
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