One of the more sensitive topics related to ageing is the ability to maintain safe driving skills into our golden years. Now maybe you’re still a spring chicken in your sixties and haven’t even had a passing thought about decreased driving abilities, but if I were to begin asking about your eyesight, your back pain, your….you get the picture. Keeping our vehicles in optimum driving condition and anticipating any issues with our driving abilities must be a priority if we’re to maintain our driving independence. Here are some tips to follow to ensure that we can stay behind the wheel for many years to come.
1) Be proactive in checking your vision, hearing and general medical health on a regular basis. When we can’t properly read street signs or when back pain keeps us from turning to check the blind spot when changing lanes, it’s time to make necessary adjustments for safety’s sake.
2) When you find it difficult to see at night or when driving in new areas becomes problematic, make the decision to limit driving. Plan your outings in the daytime only, study maps ahead of trips to new places, and avoid situations which may be confusing such as one-way streets or roundabouts.
3) Keep your car in good working condition. Regularly have your tires checked, be sure lights are in proper working order and are clean, have your oil checked and changed, and pay attention to any dashboard lights signalling potential trouble. Be sure that your brakes are in good working order.
4) If you are experiencing increased problems when driving such as close calls, trouble focusing on driving, warnings or tickets, make the necessary adjustments in your driving routines. Perhaps you might benefit from a driving refresher course, or decide to break a long drive up into several days.
5) Slow down and give yourself more space between vehicles. Reaction times tend to decrease as we age and for our own safety and that of others we need to drive with more grace. Conversely if you find people passing you on both sides, you may be driving too slowly for safety. Many seniors decide to forego freeway driving as they age.
6) Make the decision to HYPERLINK “http://www.geico.com/information/safety/auto/teendriving/distracted-driving/” limit distractions while you drive. Don’t talk on your cell phone or eat while driving. Pull over when you feel sleepy. Determine to focus on the road and leave sight-seeing to the time when someone else is behind the wheel. Even tuning the radio to another station may break the necessary concentration to drive safely.
7) Select a vehicle that makes driving easy. Buy the automatic transmission, the power brakes and steering and choose s vehicle that is easy to handle. It may have been “cool” to shift through the gears when you were in your twenties, but now you’re entitled to an easier and safer driving experience.
For many of you these tips will be better applied to your parents who may be finding driving a challenge. There are tools to help evaluate decreased ability to drive such as the crash risk self-rating form or a quiz on safe driving from the AAA traffic safety foundation. Any signs of memory loss or dementia should signal the time to give up the car keys. Certain medications may contribute to a decline in driving focus and skill.
Whenever it becomes necessary to have a serious conversation with a senior about his or her driving abilities, be sure to handle the subject with kindness and sensitivity. Be prepared to suggest alternative forms of transportation such as ride-sharing, public transportation, community shuttles, walking, or whatever resources are available in their community. Below you’ll find some helpful websites with information on many of the above topics. Driving a car is a complex skill and in most of our communities the number of cars on the road continues to increase. Let’s do all we can to keep both ourselves and our loved ones safe.