For many seniors, the loss of the ability to drive equals an almost total loss of freedom. They may no longer be able to stay in their current home or run the simplest of errands. Many seniors are healthy and able to continue driving well into their 70’s and even 80’s, but time does take its toll on a person’s driving ability. The AAA reports, “Per mile traveled, fatal crash rates increase beginning at age 75 and rise sharply after age 80.” However, that is due more to medical complications when involved in a crash than an increase in the number of car accidents. Older drivers are more likely to die in motor vehicle crashes because of their increased fragility. When crashes do occur, the senior driver is nearly four times more likely to die than any passengers in their car. If healthy seniors take precautions, they can continue to drive responsibly without endangering others.
Health and Driving
A person’s overall health affects their ability behind the wheel. Seniors should make sure any medication they take is safe to use while driving. Older people know better than to take a sleeping drug before driving, but many common medications can cause similar impairment. If a needed medication does cause impairment, discuss the drug with the doctor or pharmacist. Lowering the dosage or taking the medication before bed may alleviate the side effects leading to possible impairment.
It is also crucial for older drivers to schedule annual vision and hearing tests, and update glasses, contact lens or hearing aid prescriptions as needed.
When to Avoid Driving
Some of these suggestions apply to drivers of all age, but seniors are particularly vulnerable. For safety’s sake, seniors should avoid driving during bad weather. If an older person experiences issues with night vision, they should stay off the road after the sun goes down. If possible, do not drive during rush hour or other times when local traffic is heavy. Anything causing driver stress is more likely to result in accidents.
Changing Driving Habits
Because one’s reflexes may not be as sharp as they once were, it is wise for older drivers to change some of their driving habits. This includes increasing the following distance behind other vehicles, giving the senior driver additional reaction time. If regular driving routes take you through congested areas, try to reconfigure these routes so you are not driving on busy roads, even if it takes more time to get to your destination. Start braking earlier when approaching stops signs or red lights. You want to avoid sudden braking. Check and adjust mirrors and the driver’s seat regularly.
Mature Driver Courses
Most seniors have not taken a driving course since they received their licenses decades ago. Enrolling in a course designed for mature drivers can help older people learn how to drive defensively, avoid distracted driving and make wise driving decisions. Such courses also allow seniors to refresh their knowledge of the rules of the road.
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