Driving Tips for Seniors
As many as 88% of men and 70% of women in their early 70s drive regularly. At the age of 85 or older, 55% of men and 22% of women continue to drive. Seniors today are often committed to remaining independent for as long as possible. Being able to drive to the grocery store, doctor appointments and other destinations regularly is essential for independence. However, many well-intentioned friends and family members urge the seniors in their lives to retire their keys and to use other forms of transportation. One reason for this may be that the rate of car accident deaths among drivers who are 70 or older is significantly higher than their younger counterparts who are in the 35 to 54-year-old age group. In fact, in 2018, more than 8,100 senior drivers over the age of 65 died in crashes, and more than 212,000 other seniors required emergency medical attention after auto accidents.
Before you resign yourself to sitting in the passenger’s seat for the rest of your life, it is important to note some of the more common challenges associated with senior driving and what you can do to stay safer on the road. What should senior and elderly drivers in California know before getting behind the wheel?
Age-Related Factors That Impact Driving Abilities
You may be well aware of the many changes that your body has gone through over the decades, but how have these changes impacted your ability to safely operate a vehicle? One of the many complaints shared by elderly men and women is stiffness in joints and muscles from arthritis and other conditions. This stiffness can cause pain and slower reaction times. It may also impact your range of motion, such as inhibiting your ability to turn your neck fully and quickly to respond to a hazard. Even steering, accelerating and braking can be challenging because of stiffness. Slower reflexes and reaction times that are associated with aging can make this more problematic.
Sensory impairment, including difficulty seeing and hearing, can also be problematic. Vision problems may be caused by cataracts, glaucoma or even a general deterioration of this part of the body. It can impact peripheral vision, night vision, clarity and more. This may make it more difficult to see pedestrians, cyclists and others. Decreased hearing capabilities can affect your ability to hear changes in your vehicle’s performance, car horns, sirens and more. Generally, sensory impairment can affect your ability to spot hazards quickly so that protective or corrective actions can be taken.
The early signs of dementia can set in well before seniors may expect to see them. While some people in their 30s and 40s start to notice signs of dementia, the symptoms can become more problematic in their 60s. Common driving issues with dementia include forgetting your destination and getting lost.
Over the years, the list of medications that you take as needed or regularly may have grown significantly. Some of these medications may cause side effects that impair your ability to drive safely, such as drowsiness, lightheadedness, vision changes and more. In some instances, interactions between two or more prescribed medications may have similar undesirable effects that can impair driving abilities and result in a car accident.
Important Tips to Stay Safe on the Road
While you want to continue driving for as long as is safely possible, you understandably do not want to place yourself or others in harm’s way. The good news is that there are many steps that seniors can take to protect themselves and others from personal injury. After all, age alone should not dictate when you should stop driving. What are some important tips for safe senior driving?
Choose the Right Vehicle
Assess your car to ensure that it is as safe as possible for you to drive. For example, a vehicle with an automatic transmission is more user-friendly than one with a manual transmission. In addition, focus on matters like visibility through all windows, the presence of blind spots, braking capabilities and power steering. Most new models also have a range of assistive driver’s aids and technologies.
Focus on Vehicle Maintenance
Vehicle maintenance plays a major role in your ability to drive safely. Consider, for example, that a dirty windshield and worn wipers can impair visibility. Dull headlights can impact visibility at night, in rain and in fog. Brake condition affects speed control as well as braking capabilities. Ensure that you stay on top of all of your car’s maintenance needs.
Review Prescriptions and Side Effects with Your Doctor
If you are like other elderly drivers, you may have prescriptions written by two or more different doctors. Ensure that all of your doctors are aware of your current prescriptions. In addition, take time to understand their side effects and how different prescriptions can interact with others that you may be taking.
Visit Your Doctor Regularly
Age-related decline can develop very slowly at times, but there are other times when some of the more pronounced changes seem to develop quickly. Mark your calendar so that you get your vision exam, hearing exam and general health physical like clockwork. In addition, schedule an appointment with your doctor soon if you notice any developing issues. Ask your doctor how these changes to your health status could impact your ability to drive safely.
Adjust Your Driving Habits
Given all of the health effects associated with aging, it makes sense to adjust your driving behaviors accordingly. For example, if you have trouble seeing in darkened conditions, avoid driving at dusk or later. You may also stay off of the road when it is raining, snowy or foggy. These are conditions when it can be perilous for any driver to be on the road regardless of age. If you must get out at those times, make alternate transportation arrangements so that you are not the one driving.
Choose Safer Routes
In many cases, there are multiple routes to arrive at your destination. The most direct path may also be one that is jammed with heavy traffic or popular with speedy or dangerous drivers. Even if it takes you a few minutes longer to arrive at your destination, you may have a better experience on the road by choosing less popular thoroughfares.
Take a Defensive Driving Course
After being behind the wheel for many decades, you may think that you know everything you need to about safe driving. However, many safe driving tips may have been forgotten over the years. There may also be new driving laws that you should be aware of. Consider signing up for a defensive driving course as a refresher. Upon completion, you may qualify for a discount through your auto insurance company.
Listen to Friends and Family
It can be difficult to observe changes in yourself as easily as others may. Consider, for example, that someone who only sees you every few months may see a greater difference in your abilities than you would see in yourself on a day-to-day basis. Pay attention to the concerns of well-meaning loved ones so that their observations work in your favor.
How to Help Seniors Drive Safely
Do you have an elderly friend or family member who wants to continue driving at his or her advanced age? You can promote your loved one’s independence while helping him or her remain safer behind the wheel by taking a few steps. For example, you may make a point of assisting with auto maintenance needs. Volunteer to take the car to the auto shop for an oil change, wiper blade replacement and tire rotation.
You may also stay on top of changes in his or her health. Many adults attend their parents’ doctor appointments so that they can offer assistance and support as needed. By taking this step, you can monitor changes in health status, medication changes and other factors that could impact driving capabilities. Also, ensure that the driver stays on top of vision and hearing appointments.
You may prefer to drive your senior friend or family member around on joint outings. From time to time, however, let the senior take the driver’s seat. This gives you a chance to observe reaction times and other factors that you may be concerned about.
Have You Been Involved in a Car Accident?
Regardless of age, all drivers may be involved in a car accident from time to time. California drivers can endure significant consequences from a car accident. These may include expensive vehicle repairs, burdensome medical bills and more. Legal representation from a skilled personal injury lawyer can help you to protect your rights after an accident. Your personal injury lawyer may also be able to obtain compensation for the pain, suffering and expenses that you are facing as a result of the accident. Schedule an initial consultation today to discuss your accident with a personal injury attorney.