Our driving abilities can start to decline from age 55 on. While driving abilities will vary considerably and many seniors can continue to drive safely, it’s important to be aware of what can cause a decline in driving ability and how to deal with it. This is especially important for assessing risk at work for older employees operating heavy machinery. The most common problems seniors face is failure to yield the right of way, making improper left turns, and lacking the ability to back up, get on and off freeways, negotiate blind spots or react quickly. The majority of information we need to drive comes through our eyes, but as we age we start to need more light to see clearly, find it harder to adjust to glare and can’t see as well in the dark. Those with hearing loss have difficulty hearing sounds from sirens, horns and train whistles. Many medications can also cause drowsiness and confusion.
Physical decline can be discouraging and it can be tempting to ignore it, but in the end, it’s best to address difficulties head on. Often the way you drive can be adjusted to meet your new needs and allow you to safely maintain your independence. For seniors dealing with changing driving abilities, here are five tips to follow.
1. Avoid Difficult Driving Times – If your vision is causing problems, plan your driving times for when it’s easier to see and there are less cars on the road. Avoid driving at night, rush hour or in bad weather. If you do find a need to drive at night, make sure your headlights are clean to improve visibility and use night glasses to help reduce glare.
2. Create Simplified Routes – If certain types of intersections or freeway driving is too much for you, create an alternate route that uses roads and intersections you can handle. Plan the route completely before you leave, so you won’t get lost or confused en route.
3. Practice Defensive Driving – With all of the distracted and reckless drivers out there combined with a slower reaction time, you will want to take extra precautions when driving. Leave extra space between your car and the one in front of you. Look in all directions before entering an intersection and be sure to drive with the flow of traffic. Extra fast or slow speeds can both prove dangerous. Avoid distractions while driving such as talking on a cell phone or reading a map. Many organizations such as AAA and AARP offer a defensive driving course specific to seniors.
4. Get Checked by the Doctor – Staying current on your doctor visits and getting your eyes and ears checked can go a long way in keeping you safe on the road. Get your vision checked every year and make sure your glasses or contacts are correctly adjusted. Get your ears checked every year as well, and if you are given hearing aids, always wear them while driving. Avoid things like an open car window that can impair a hearing aid’s effectiveness. Finally, discuss with your doctor any side effects your medications may have and how that will affect your driving ability.
5. Use the Right Car/Driving Aids – Finding a car that’s easier to drive can make a huge difference in keeping you on the road. When selecting a car choose one with automatic transmission to reduce the number of things you need to do while driving. Be sure that the seat sits you up high enough to see well and allows you to reach the pedals easily. An occupational therapist can help you get equipment to make steering and operating foot pedals easier if this has become difficult for you.