Senior drivers have it better today than they did in the past. Better cars, better health and better roads all add up to more years behind the wheel for many older adults, whether they’re living in their own homes or in retirement communities.
However, this doesn’t mean it’s business as usual for senior drivers. If you’re an older driver who hopes to hold onto your keys for a few years longer without compromising your own safety or the safety of others, follow these seven driving tips for seniors.
1. Stay in shape.
The better physical shape you’re in, the better your flexibility, strength and reaction times will be. From looking over your shoulder while driving in reverse to turning the steering wheel, these movements are essential to safe driving and parking.
While working with a personal trainer is a great way to build functional fitness, so is incorporating more physical activity into your everyday routine by walking, stretching and strength training. One caveat: Don’t jump into a new exercise regimen without getting the go-ahead from your doctor.
2. Enlist your doctor’s help.
Your doctor can offer helpful guidance and partnership regarding your future behind the wheel. For starters, if you have any chronic conditions that might affect your ability to drive, he or she can provide specific instructions or adjust your treatment plan for safety.
Furthermore, while age in itself is no reason to give up driving, age-related changes — including impaired hearing and vision problems — may compromise your ability to drive safely.
Ask your doctor how often you should have vision and hearing tests. Stick to this schedule, even if you don’t think anything has changed since your last visit. As vision and hearing changes are often gradual, you may not notice these changes. Plus, some issues are easier to correct with early detection.
Additionally, certain medications can impact driver safety. Always read your medication labels, and check in with your doctor or pharmacist if you're unsure about possible side effects, such as drowsiness or dizziness.
3. Know your capabilities and your limits.
Age-related changes are a fact of life. Acknowledging them is an important part of safe driving as a senior. Just because you’re struggling with physical limitations doesn’t mean your driving days are numbered.
The solution may be as simple as adjusting your driving position. Or, ask your doctor to refer you to an occupational therapist, who can teach you about exercises and assistive devices aimed at overcoming these issues.
4. Know your vehicle — and upgrade, if necessary.
In addition to knowing your own limits, knowing the limits of your vehicle can further boost safety. Some vehicles have senior-friendly features, such as easy-to-read dashboard dials. Meanwhile, newer cars boast more advanced safety features, including forward-collision warning (FCW), automatic emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot warning (BSW), lane-departure warning (LDW), and adaptive cruise control.
5. Drive at the right times and in the right places.
If you’ve ever driven at night in an unfamiliar place, you’re probably aware of how challenging it can be. Factor in age-related changes, and these situations can escalate into stressful and dangerous ones.
One simple fix: Only drive when and where you are comfortable. In some cases, this may mean restricting your driving to daylight hours in good weather. In other cases, it may mean driving only in areas that you know and steering clear of rush hour traffic. However old you are, it’s also wise to avoid driving in bad weather, as well as when you’re angry or tired.
It also goes without saying: Don’t drive when you’re under the influence of alcohol or mind-altering drugs — even when you've got a prescription.
6. Keep your eyes on the road.
Distracted driving is an equal opportunity affliction. Avoid becoming a statistic by planning your route in advance, entering GPS coordinates before setting out and stashing your phone out of sight.
Think it’s OK to use your cellphone as long as you’re going hands-free? Think again. Cautions the National Safety Council, “New technology in vehicles is causing us to become more distracted behind the wheel than ever before. Fifty-three percent of drivers believe if manufacturers put "infotainment" dashboards and hands-free technology in vehicles, they must be safe. And, with some state laws focusing on handheld bans, many drivers honestly believe they are making the safe choice by using a hands-free device. But in fact, these technologies distract our brains even long after you've used them.”
Further minimize distraction and maximize safety by keeping your car in good working condition; cleaning your windshield, headlights and mirror for visibility; and limiting noise within the vehicle.
7. Take a refresher class for mature drivers.
Odds are, you haven’t taken a driving course for decades. Now's a good time to change that. Many community organizations offer courses designed to help seniors update their driving skills while reinforcing good habits, such as knowing all traffic laws and safe stopping distances. An added bonus: Taking a driving course might even get you a break on your car insurance.
One last thing to keep in mind: At some point, the time will eventually come to turn in your driver’s license. The good news? Giving up driving doesn’t mean giving up your independence.
In addition to taking advantage of local transportation options, choosing a retirement community like Deupree House, which arranges transportation to a breadth and depth of activities for its residents, can help you continue to enjoy your freedom throughout your golden years.