According to AARP, the number of people 70 and older killed in crashes has decreased by 18 percent in the last two decades which is great news for older drivers. Part of that is because the vehicles of today are safer than those of the past. Improvements in healthcare may also play a part in these statistics.
While this is great news for senior drivers, it’s still important to make sure that you are fit to get behind the wheel. Here are the top 5 things to consider:
- MEDICATIONS: Many medications, both prescription and non-prescription can have side effects that could interfere with your ability to drive safety. Research the side effects and talk to your doctor to make sure you are safe to drive while you are taking your meds. Roadwise Rx on AAA’s website is a free online tool that provides confidential, individualized feedback about users medication side effects and interactions, highlighting how these effects may impact safe driving abilities.
- VISION: There are many things that affect vision as we age. Conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration can deteriorate your vision. Older adults also require more light in order to see well. If you struggle to read street signs, or have trouble navigating at night, you may need to make some changes to ensure the safety of yourself and others. Have your vision checked regularly and make sure your eye doctor is on board with you being behind the wheel. If you have corrective lenses, make sure you wear them.
- HEARING: Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults. The inability to hear well can be very dangerous when you are behind the wheel of the car. If you have trouble hearing honking horns, emergency sirens or railroad crossing bells, then you put yourself and others at risk. It’s best to have your hearing checked regularly. Some conditions that cause hearing loss can be treated and corrected. Some people can also be helped by hearing aids.
- REACTION TIME: There are many factors that can affect your ability to react to stimuli. Stiff joints can make it difficult to check blind spots when changing lanes or inhibit your ability to move quickly when the need to quickly brake or accelerate occurs. Exercises to improve flexibility and mobility may help some individuals. It’s also important to make sure your car is comfortable and a good fit for you. Move your seat to maximize your comfort and control and adjust your mirrors to minimize blind spots.
- COGNITION AND MEMORY: Your ability to remember directions and respond to what is going on around you is very important for the safety of yourself and others. If you are having trouble remembering how to navigate somewhere, or if you are unable to make quick decisions when unexpected things happen, then it might be time to reconsider driving.
OTHER TIPS TO KEEP YOU SAFE:
Plan your trips ahead of time. Know where you are headed and what route you want to take to get there. Have an alternative in mind if something unexpected comes up. Pull up Google Maps on your computer and input your destination, or use a good old-fashioned road map or Mapsco if you’re not computer savvy. Consider using a GPS in your vehicle to help you navigate, especially if you are in an unfamiliar place. Many newer cars are equipped with GPS and most SmartPhones also have GPS apps, such as Google Maps or Waze.
Eliminate distractions inside the vehicle. Keep your radio volume at a minimum and don’t use your cell phone while you are driving. This will help you stay focused on the road and help you react quickly and appropriately to the factors around you.
Avoid roadways where you aren’t comfortable. If you don’t like traffic jams or aren’t as comfortable driving at high speeds, take surface roads instead of freeways. Try to plan your outings at times that are less busy, avoiding the morning and evening rush hours.
Increase your following distance. Make adjustments for slower reaction times by keeping a larger distance between you and the next vehicle.
Stay alert. Don’t drive if you are sleepy and take frequent breaks if you are driving a long distance.
Exercise your mind and body regularly. Exercises such as yoga or Tai Chi are great for flexibility and help keep your joints and muscles working properly. Doing crosswords or Sudoku puzzles, or playing games like chess, are great mind exercises. There are lots of other suggestions for keeping your brain fit – like reciting the months of the year backwards or thinking of 5 words that start with the first letter of your name. A quick internet search will turn up all kinds of ideas.
Consider taking a Senior Driving Course. Many organizations offer classes for older drivers. They will help you improve your skills and you’ll likely get a discount on your auto insurance upon completion of the class. AAA and AARP both offer these programs for their members.