Stay Safe Behind the Wheel – Tips for Older Drivers

Health & Well Being

Safe Drivers Have More Independence, Flexibility and Options

Maintaining a good driving record as you age directly impacts your ability to go where you want, when you want, and to keep your own schedule and routine. But staying safe on the road gets harder as we get older. Senior drivers typically wear seat belts, respect speed limits, and may have fewer distractions like loud music while driving. But even though they drive fewer miles, seniors also have a “high crash death rate per miles driven” rate, second only to teen drivers.

Any time you get behind the wheel, you’re taking a slight risk – no matter your age. But making a concerted effort to maintain your driving skills and your physical ability to drive safely, can keep you on the road much longer.

Evaluating Your Driving Ability

A thorough evaluation of your ability to drive safely is something that should be done regularly. You can do a self-assessment with online tools offered by your local Department of Motor Vehicles and other safety organizations, or take an in-car driving evaluation with a driving instructor. If you’ve noticed any problems with your driving, or if friends or family have any concerns, a professional evaluation is the way to go. You’ll get an honest answer, designed to keep you, your passengers and other drivers safe.

Physical/Mental Changes and Driving

If you get the green light to continue driving without restrictions, there are many factors that can change quickly and negatively impact your ability to drive safely.

Changes in vision – If you can’t see well, you can’t drive well either. Be acutely aware of any changes in vision.

Hearing difficulties – We use our ears nearly as much as our eyes when driving in heavy traffic. Make sure you’re able to hear what’s going on outside your vehicle (sirens, honking, traffic noise) to avoid running into problems.

Physical reaction time – It’s common knowledge that alcohol can negatively impact reaction time when driving. Aging has the same effect, reducing our ability to respond to vehicles that pull out unexpectedly, drivers who change lanes without signaling, and pedestrians who cross against the light – among other things. Watching out for the “other guy” is a full-time job when driving. Make sure you’re able to respond to whatever comes your way.

Awareness and perception – Knowing where you are, where you’re going, and how to get home can become challenging for older drivers. If you find yourself becoming confused when taking your usual routes to the store, church, your doctor’s office or a friend’s home, it’s time for some serious soul searching about your fitness to drive without restrictions.

Medical conditions and medications – Common conditions like arthritis can make driving difficult, especially if you have pain, stiffness and swelling in your hands and neck. Other conditions like diabetes and heart problems may put you at risk if you have an episode while driving. Some medications may cause drowsiness or lightheadedness and make driving difficult too. Your doctor can help you understand when medical conditions or medications may preclude you from driving.

There are many proactive steps you can take to ensure good “driving health” including staying fit, having your vision and hearing checked regularly, and being honest with yourself about any physical limitations that make driving difficult.

Maintaining your vehicle’s “health” is just as important. A well-tended vehicle is less likely to cause you problems on the road or put you in jeopardy of getting in an accident. Finally, eliminating distractions like your cell phone while driving is not just good common sense – in some states, it’s the law. Put your phone away while driving, or use a hands-free system for calls and navigation to keep your focus on the road.

Improve Your Skills and Save Money on Your Insurance

Many states participate in safe driving programs designed especially for seniors, which when completed successfully, may provide a discount on your car insurance. In addition to “passing” the course, your age and driving record may factor in to any discount you may receive. Check with your insurance agent to find safe driving courses in your area.

Alternatives to Driving Yourself

Eventually, we all need to relinquish our cherished car keys and let someone else shuttle us about! If you live in an area with a good mass transit system, getting where you need to go via bus or rapid transit is a great option. You may have friends who are still driving, and carpooling is a good way to share expenses like fuel and parking. Ride share services like Uber and Lyft are convenient options when you don’t want to wait for a bus or train. For regular trips to the grocery store or medical appointments, investigate community transportation services, designed especially for seniors and others who are not able to drive.