Written by: Emily Holbrook for Aging I.Q. News
Older Americans are more active and independent than ever before, and driving can help maintain a sense of freedom and a better quality of life. In 2018, there were 35 million people 70 and older living in the United States, and approximately 29 million licensed drivers in that age range.¹ But seniors are more vulnerable to road-related incidents, and should take additional precautions before getting behind the wheel. Check out our 10 tips for staying safe when you hit the road.
1. Opt for Safe Driving Conditions
With winter around the corner, road safety is top of mind for most drivers. Rain, snow, ice, fog, and other extreme weather-related conditions can limit visibility or create hazardous conditions—increasing the likelihood of accidents. But cold-weather conditions aren’t the only risks. Driving at night can cause issues for people with or without vision problems. Even sunsets or sun glares can affect your ability to see. Keep a pair of prescription or anti-glare glasses in your car, stick to driving during the day, and avoid inclement weather.
2. Choose Safe Routes
Functional impairments can make driving more stressful or challenging in some situations. Merging, turning left, or changing lanes can be dangerous for seniors. Going out of the way to avoid difficult highways, intersections, or turns may seem inconvenient, but can ensure you’re on the safest route possible.
3. Avoid Distractions
Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of car accidents. Mute your mobile device and keep it out of sight and out of mind while you’re behind the wheel. But distractions go beyond talking or texting. From eating or drinking to adjusting the stereo or navigation system, anything that takes your attention off the road has the potential to put you in harm’s way.
4. Understand your Medical Risks
As people get older, medical conditions are more likely to affect their ability to drive, but many issues can be avoided with a proactive approach. Visit your ear and eye doctor annually to check your prescription and test for potential impairments. Ask about accessibility resources for disabilities if they apply. Check with your primary care physician or pharmacist to see if your medications impact your driving ability, and if so, see if there is an alternative option. Most importantly, avoid getting behind the wheel when you’re drinking or feeling dizzy or drowsy.
5. Stay in Shape
You may be wondering how staying in shape can help keep you safe while driving … but it can make a big impact. Regular exercise helps you maintain flexibility, which makes it easier to look over your shoulder or turn the wheel. Staying in shape can also help improve your focus and reaction time, which is an essential part of road safety.
6. Consult a Driving Rehabilitation Specialist
A DRS, or Driving Rehabilitation Specialist, is a professional who helps individuals with disabilities plan, implement, and coordinate driving services. Using specialized adaptive devices, a driving rehabilitation specialist will check muscle strength, flexibility, range of motion, coordination, reaction time, judgment, decision-making skills, and the overall ability to drive.
7. Maintain your Vehicle
Keeping your car clean and running properly can help you avoid issues on the road and can also help extend the life of your vehicle. Check the tire pressure once a month or prior to any long trips. Change your oil and rotate your tires every 5,000 miles. Clean your mirrors, windows, and headlights regularly to ensure an unobstructed view. Address any issues or engine warning lights as soon as possible.
8. Consider a Driving Aid
There are many adaptive aids that help seniors stay behind the wheel for longer. Swivel seat cushions aid in getting in and out of the car to avoid a fall. Steering wheel grips and key turners can help reduce pain from arthritis. Pedal extenders can help you reach the pedals while sitting further away from the airbag. Beyond aids, free clinics are available to help assess your vehicle for comfort and safety and personalize your car to your individual needs.
9. Take a Refresher Driving Course
From the basics to more advanced topics like defensive driving, refresher courses are available online to help people feel more confident when they get behind the wheel. Many communities offer classes as well. This can help tune-up your driving skills and give you the tools to help compensate for things like impaired eyesight or hearing, or slower reflexes. In some cases, taking courses like these can even help lower the cost of your insurance.
10. Consider Investing in a New Car
Fatalities are much more likely in older cars without advanced technology designed to keep you safe. If you’re considering a new car, choose one with the latest features like forward collision warning, automatic crash notification, park assist, rear display, and navigation or driver assistance. Also, be sure to check safety ratings before making a decision.
By following these 10 tips, you’ll be better equipped to drive smarter and safer. Share your best tips on senior road safety with us below!