- Written by Barbara Bodzin, Executive Director
- Published: 27 November 2019
Many of us get into our vehicles each day to drive to work, go to a medical appointment, visit friends and family, run errands, or travel a distance for vacation. We take for granted the independence and freedom associated with our ability to drive.
Frequently, older drivers have a lifetime of driving experience behind them and deeply value the flexibility and mobility that driving provides. Driving abilities do change with age, and reducing risk factors can certainly extend our time behind the wheel. It can be particularly difficult to determine whether or not our physical or cognitive capacities are no longer adequate to safely navigate the roads. Limiting or curtailing driving is a complex and emotionally charged decision, and having that discussion with a loved one when there are safety concerns is challenging. Preparing for the conversation with “We Need to Talk,” a free online seminar developed jointly with the Hartford and MIT AgeLab, can help guide you through the steps to take.
Factors such as vision, hearing, reflexes, and physical coordination are prime among issues which can hinder an aging driver from being efficient and alert when heading out onto the road. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) provides older drivers tips and suggestions for optimizing health and safety.
Limiting or curtailing driving is a complex and emotionally charged decision, and having that discussion with a loved one when there are safety concerns is challenging.
According to AARP and other sources, the following are some of the warning signs of unsafe driving:
- Delayed response to unexpected situations
- Becoming easily distracted while driving
- Decrease in confidence while driving
- Having difficulty moving into or maintaining the correct lane of traffic
- Hitting curbs when making right turns or backing up
- Getting scrapes or dents on a car, garage or mailbox
- Having frequent close calls
- Frequently getting lost in familiar areas
- Driving too fast or too slow for road conditions
- Reduced back/neck flexibility that limits an aging driver's ability to turn their body to more fully see and gauge oncoming traffic or other hazards near and around the vehicle
There are numerous resources available to assist in determining our capacity to safely navigate the roads including having skills checked by a driving rehabilitation specialist, occupational therapist, or other trained professional. Taking a defensive driving course and passing the class to reduce risk may even result in a lowered auto insurance rate. And finally, ask your physician if any of your health problems or medications might be impacting your ability to drive. Together, you can make a plan to help keep you on the road and decide if the time comes when it is no longer safe to drive.
Our region, similar to many rural communities, is comprised of high proportions of elders, persons with disabilities, and individuals living on limited income who often are isolated in their homes due to limited options for getting around. Barriers to transportation can negatively affect one’s health as a result of missed or delayed medical appointments or limited access to needed medications. Access to viable transportation resources through a more integrated approach is essential, especially in our rural area where public transportation is limited and walking is typically not a feasible option to get to our destination.
However, growth in resources and positive strides in safety technology are happening. Vehicle technology is available with features such as assistive parking, blind spot and crash warning mitigation, drowsy driver alerts, and lane departure warning systems, to name just a few. Ride sharing options and increased availability of taxi-type services are accessible through Uber and Lyft. FRTA has expanded their menu of transportation offerings as well. Volunteer ride services are available through Councils on Aging and are becoming increasingly more available through local “neighbors” programs and LifePath’s Rides for Health program.