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Information & Caregiver Resource Corner: Safe Driving Resources for Older Adults

empty road with grassy hills on each side from perspective of driverAlthough getting older doesn’t mean your driving ability will get worse, it’s important to be aware of how age-related factors and health conditions may affect your driving skills.

Q: How might my age affect my ability to drive?

A: According to AAA, the automotive motor club association, things that might affect your driving safety as you age include:

  • Physical changes: such as mobility, alertness, coordination, and response times.
  • Vision changes: such as the way your eyes focus, can have an impact on driving safety.
  • Hearing changes: inability to hear ambulance or police sirens, car horns, motorists, or pedestrians could have an impact on driving safety.
  • Cognitive problems: According to AAA, our ability to process information tends to slow down as we get older. People with certain conditions like dementia might not be able to react appropriately to traffic situations and might not react properly to traffic signs and pavement markings.
  • Medications: some prescription drugs may have side effects, such as drowsiness, that make driving dangerous. Read the labels carefully.

Be proactive: schedule regular appointments with your physician to monitor pain or stiffness in your joints, any chronic conditions, fatigue, and stress. In addition to visiting your physician for general health checkups, vision and hearing screenings also need to be performed regularly.

It's important to be aware of any limitations that you find yourself up against, so that you can make necessary adjustments to ensure safety for yourself and those around you.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you are out on the road:

  • If you wear glasses or contact lenses, ALWAYS have them while driving.
  • Be aware of conditions that might be affecting your vision, such as:
    • Cataracts
    • Glaucoma
    • Macular degeneration
  • If you feel like your vision is worsening, consult with your optometrist.
  • Recognize signs of trouble seeing at night.
  • If you have problems hearing other vehicles or emergency sirens when you drive, consult an audiologist.
  • Keep the noise inside the vehicle to a minimum.

It's important to be aware of any limitations that you find yourself up against, so that you can make necessary adjustments to ensure safety for yourself and those around you. Some of these adjustments can include the following:

  • Increase your following distance.
  • Use the brakes early.
  • Avoid busy areas.
  • Try to anticipate rather than react.
  • Keep the steering wheel at a comfortable distance from your chest.
  • Raise the height of the seat so that your eyes are above the steering wheel.
  • Move your side mirrors to avoid blind spots.
  • Raise or lower the headrest so that it is directly behind your head.

There are certain times when senior drivers will be more at risk. For this reason, try to avoid driving in inclement weather, at night, or during rush hour when possible.

Brushing up on your driving skills is one way to help you stay safe while driving. Consider taking a mature driver safety course. AAA’s “Roadwise Driver” is a course to help you with:

  • Extending your safe driving career
  • Distractions, drowsiness, aggressive driving & road rage
  • Managing visibility, time & space
  • Alcohol & medications
  • Comfort & safety tips

Finally, be prepared for the unexpected. If you have the right items in your emergency roadside kit, such as reflective triangles, you can safely deal with any problems that arise. A basic roadside emergency kit should include some of the following items:

  • Jumper cables
  • Flares or triangle reflectors
  • A quart or more of motor oil
  • A gallon of coolant
  • First-aid kit
  • Blanket or space blanket
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Tool kit with screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrench, pocket knife
  • A can of tire inflator and sealant
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • Paper towels
  • Spray bottle with washer fluid
  • Ice scraper
  • Pen and paper
  • Granola or energy bars
  • Bottled water