As we age, it is critical to realize that our driving ability can change based on factors such as decreased vision, slower motor reflexes and other health conditions. Aging also tends to result in a reduction of strength, coordination and flexibility, which can impact your ability to safely control a car.
Difficulties such as neck pain can make it harder for a driver to look over their shoulder, diminished arm strength can make it difficult to turn the steering wheel, pain in the leg can make it difficult to move the foot from gas to brake quickly.
Aging does not automatically equal total loss of driving ability. There are many things you can do to continue driving safely, including modifying your car, the way you drive and addressing any physical issues that can interfere with driving. Follow these tips to drive safety:
- Keep the car in good working condition. Get it serviced regularly and check the gas, oil and tyre pressure. Make sure windshields, mirrors and headlights are always kept clean.
- You might also want to choose a different vehicle or make adjustments to better meet your needs. Choose a vehicle with automatic transmission, power steering and power brakes. Vehicles that have larger and easier to read dials are also preferred. Modifications such as a steering wheel cover can make holding and turning the wheel more comfortable. Turn up the brightness on the instrument panel on the dashboard.
- Restrict when and where to drive. You may want to avoid driving at night or in bad weather. Stay off highways to avoid fast moving traffic.
- Get your vision tested annually and make sure glasses or contact lenses are kept current. If you are prescribed a hearing aid, make sure it is worn while driving.
- Being well rested and getting plenty of sleep is important for safe driving.
- Avoid distractions such as talking on the phone or texting.
- Leave adequate space for the car in front of you and allow for sufficient braking distance. Pay extra attention at intersections.
- Plan the route before leaving to avoid getting confused or lost.
- Stay physically active through stretching and strength training exercises to improve strength and flexibility. This can make movements easier while driving such as looking over your shoulder or turning the steering wheel.
- Follow your doctor’s instructions to manage medical conditions such as diabetes or seizures that can impact driving safety. Check if any medication is likely to affect your driving ability. Drugs such as sleep medication, muscle relaxants or antihistamines can put an elderly driver at greater risk.
The safest thing a senior can do is know when it is time to let someone else do the driving. This doesn’t mean the end of their independence. Adjusting to life without a car can be challenging at first but you will find many health and social benefits in alternative modes of transportation.