Aging Doesn’t Have To Mean The End Of Road For Drivers

Aging Doesn’t Have To Mean The End Of Road For Drivers


Those of us who are 60 and over have been living in the golden age of the automobile – when virtually every American adult enjoys the freedom of owning his or her own car, making it relatively easy to visit friends, go shopping, and travel to exciting places. Of course, when so many people have that same freedom, the roads can get overcrowded and extremely dangerous to drive on. Especially for those whose reflexes and reaction times may be slipping a bit.

Yet, just because you’ve aged doesn’t mean your driving safety has to be compromised. With a few simple adjustments and an honest awareness of your abilities, you can continue to hit the road without feeling like you’re in danger of hitting something else.

To stay safe whenever you get behind the wheel, consider these seven safety suggestions geared toward senior drivers:

1. Have a clean bill of health. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, physical and mental changes can affect your ability to operate a vehicle safely as you get older. Some of these impairments may be:

  • Pain or stiffness in your joints that may affect your ability to control the steering wheel or turn to look into safety mirrors.
  • Chronic conditions like diabetes and seizures.
  • Fatigue that can be a factor depending on the length of your trip.
  • High stress levels that could frustrate you or aggravate any other health conditions you may have.
  • Medications that may make driving unsafe (read labels carefully).

Before you drive, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor about your overall health condition and about lowering your stress levels especially if you are at risk for any heart-related health conditions.

2. Check your hearing and vision. In addition to visiting your doctor for general health checkups, it’s important to make sure you can see and hear clearly. That means always wear your glasses or contact lenses while driving if you need them. Be aware of conditions like cataracts or glaucoma that might be affecting your vision and be especially aware if you’re having trouble seeing at night. If you feel like your vision is worsening, consult with your optometrist. If so, you may need to stick with daytime driving only. Have problems hearing other vehicles or emergency sirens when you drive? That could be an indication you need a hearing aid. In any case, keep the noise inside the vehicle to a minimum. This includes music and conversations with your passengers.

3. Know your limitations. As you get older, it’s important to be aware of and honest with yourself about how quickly you can adjust to heavy traffic or unexpected situations that could affect your safety and other drivers around you. That could mean:

  • Increasing your following distance to give yourself more reaction time.
  • Using the brakes early when approaching traffic signals, stop signs and taillights.
  • Trying to anticipate rather than react by scanning far down the road.
  • Avoiding rush hour and busy areas altogether
  • Finding alternative routes with less traffic.

4. Adjust your driving position. Always make sure you’re in a position to comfortably reach the steering wheel and see over it, to see the side mirrors and obstacles down the road, and of course, to reach the gas pedal and the brake. Remember, if the steering wheel is too close to your chest, it could result in an injury should an airbag deploy. To help with visibility behind you, lower the headrest so that it is directly behind your head. And Consider a pedal extension if you have difficulty reaching the accelerator or brake.

5. Stay out of dangerous conditions. In addition to avoiding rush hour and driving at night if you have difficulty seeing, it should go without saying that you should stay away from inclement weather if at all possible. Not only is it more difficult to control your vehicle, it can be much harder to see. What’s more, other drivers are less in control as well and may not realize it.

6. Make adjustments to your car. Or get a new one. Adding pedal extensions isn’t the only thing to can do to make your car safer. AAA lists a dozen potential adjustments that can make driving safer and more comfortable for seniors, including:

  • Adding a steering wheel cover to help improve your grip on the wheel.
  • Installing convex or multifaceted mirrors can minimize blind spots and increase visibility.
  • Using seat pads or cushions to help alleviate hip and back pain.

Before you drive, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor about your overall health condition and about lowering your stress levels especially if you are at risk for any heart-related health conditions.

  • Backup cameras.
  • Lane departure warning signals.
  • Forward collision prevention/emergency braking.
  • Adaptive cruise control (automatically slows you down when you’re close to the car in front of you)
  • Blind spot monitoring
  • Automatic parking.

It’s the next best thing to having your own chauffeur.

With faster cars in a faster-paced world, driving isn’t going to get any easier as you get older. But we hope you’ve found some of these hints helpful. If not, stay tuned in a few weeks when we’ll share ideas on how to get rid of your car when it’s time to let someone else do the driving.

*This blog was first published here: Sunshine Retirement Living, March, 2018.

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