Senior Drivers: How To Stay Safe

Senior Drivers: How To Stay Safe

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For many people, driving a car is a way of life and a lifeline to stay connected with the rest of the world. Unfortunately, fatal car accidents are more common for older drivers, particularly those 70 and older. It is clear that as we age, some of us lose the skills we need for safe driving. It’s important to be aware of these changes in ourselves, our parents and other loved ones to ensure well-being for every driver on the road.



What Changes

Several physical changes occur as we age that directly impact our driving ability. Neck stiffness may make it difficult to turn our heads to check traffic. Hearing loss can make it impossible to hear other cars or emergency vehicles. Weaker eyesight can mean drivers don’t notice or can’t read road signs. Arm strength may fail making it difficult to steer and leg pain may make it impossible to brake quickly. In addition, mental facility can change, making our reaction times slower on the road.


Warning Signs

Some drivers won’t notice that their skills are diminishing while others simply won’t want to admit it. There are certain telltale signs that indicate a driver is having trouble. You may notice that a driver fails to obey all traffic signals or pulls too close to other cars. If they tend to hit their side mirrors on objects, dent their bumper more than usual and accumulate more scrapes on the vehicle than seems normal, they may be having trouble driving.


Assess Ability

Physical and mental health is critical to good driving. Older drivers should visit their medical professional regularly for full health screenings. Doctors should assess eyesight and hearing, check blood pressure and heart health and confirm that medications are correct. Lack of sleep and overmedication can impact a driver’s ability to be alert.


Improve Skills

There are several ways to work on driving skills. All drivers should stay active, exercise and stimulate their brains to remain physically and mentally fit. Older drivers should consider taking a self-assessment, a test that can be found on the Internet. They can enroll in a driving course to refresh their knowledge of road rules and sharpen their skills. Finally, they can enlist the help of an occupational therapist who specializes in helping older drivers. These experts can help evaluate driving skills by conducting tests on the road. They can offer valuable feedback and rehabilitation exercises that can help an older driver keep her license and remain a responsible, reliable driver.


Adjust The Drive

If a driver feels nervous on the freeway, encourage him to take side streets. If night vision is a problem, the driver should stay off the road after dusk. Sometimes driving a smaller vehicle or a car with fewer blind spots can improve safe driving. Small changes within a car, such as installing larger rear view and side mirrors, can be a great help to older drivers.


When To Help

Telling someone they aren’t capable of driving anymore is a difficult conversation to have. If you have observed dangerous driving and don’t know how to address the issue, enlist the help of other family members or ask the driver’s doctor to help explain the dangers to their patient. Help the driver find other transportation such as public transit, senior shuttles, taxis or carpools. Healthy older drivers can consider biking or walking to many destinations.

Editor, 08/16/2012