Driving is often seen as a symbol of freedom and independence.
Getting older doesn’t mean you have to stop driving, but you should be aware of changing capabilities that may compromise your driving skills or the driving skills of a loved one over time.
According to an Ohio Department of Aging publication on transportation safety, “there is no magic age at which we are no longer able to drive safely.” However, aging does affect our mental and physical capabilities and can impact our ability to operate a vehicle.
Be Aware of Your Changing Faculties
Our senses, strength and flexibility all tend to decline with age. Eyesight loses sharpness. Muscles weaken. Joints get stiff. Hearing becomes more difficult.
All of these factors can impact your driving, making it more difficult to manage a vehicle and navigate roads and highways. There are, however, ways to adapt to and stay on the road safely with a moderate decrease in ability.
- A trip to a healthcare provider can help come up with ways to manage pain and stiffness or treat vision and hearing problems. Get a vision screening every 1 to 2 years after 65 and a hearing check every 3 years.
- Driving a car with automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes, large mirrors, and other conveniences make driving easier.
- A regular exercise routine can keep seniors living well and driving longer. Engaging in moderate exercise, like water aerobics or yoga, several times a week improves muscle tone as well as range of motion, helping seniors stay safe behind the wheel.
- Drivers with vision problems should never drive without corrective lenses, and those with trouble seeing in the dark should cut back on night driving.
- Diminished hearing makes it difficult to notice horns, sirens or noises from your own car. Get a hearing aid to boost your range and try to keep the inside of the car quiet so that warnings are more apparent. And always pay attention to dashboard lights that can alert you to problems like overheating or a need for gas when you can’t hear warnings.
Strategies for Adapting
Driving requires us to react quickly to changes in traffic. A driver must be able to stay calm and make split-second decisions to stay safe and prevent accidents. Reaction time tends to slow with age, but don’t worry. There are ways to compensate.
- To avoid colliding with the vehicle in front of you during a sudden stop, leave at least a car’s length between you and the next car then start braking early for a stop.
- Only drive in high traffic areas when absolutely necessary. Stay in the far-right lane where traffic moves the slowest and try to find routes that allow you to make right-hand turns at busy intersections.
- Be aware of road conditions. Bad weather can be challenging for any driver. It may be best to avoid going out in heavy rain or snow. If going out into the elements can’t be avoided, however, be cautious and leave plenty of time to reach a destination. Always drive carefully when going out, no matter the weather.
- Take defensive driving and other skills courses. Car insurance companies should be able to help locate nearby classes and may even offer a discount for drivers who pass.
Know When It’s Time to Hang up the Keys
We all age differently. For this reason, there is no way to set one age when everyone should stop driving. At some point, however, aging drivers begin to wonder if it is time for them to stop driving.
A program or clinic that assesses driving abilities, like the services provided by AAA, can give an official appraisal of driving skills. But there are a few questions to ask first.
- Consider level of awareness which can be evident in the reactions of other drivers. Are you or your loved one being honked at frequently for drifting, or do cars or people walking seem to appear out of nowhere? Has there been an increased frequency of accidents—serious or minor?
- Think about how well you, or your loved one, are able to operate a vehicle and navigate the road. Is it too easy to get lost even on well-known roads? Is there trouble switching between the gas and brake pedals or in keeping the two straight?
If you or your loved ones answered yes to any of these questions, it may be time to have a serious conversation with family about finding alternative methods of transportation.