Driving can sometimes get challenging for older adults. Take note of these safety tips for older drivers, from taking good care of yourself to planning ahead and updating your skills.
Driver safety needs more than understanding road signs and traffic laws. As you grow older, you’ll likely notice physical changes that can make some actions — such as turning your head to look for oncoming traffic or braking safely — more difficult. Still, older drivers can remain safe on the road. Follow these seven tips for older drivers.
- Be physically active
Staying physically active enhances your strength and flexibility. In turn, physical activity can improve driver safety by making it easier to turn the steering wheel, look over your shoulder, and make other movements while driving and parking.
Look for ways to include physical activites in your daily routine. Walking is a good choice for many people. Stretching and strength training exercises are helpful for older drivers, too. If you have been sedentary, get your doctor’s OK before increasing your activity level.
- Arrange regular vision and hearing tests
Some senses, such as hearing and vision, seem to decline with age. Impaired hearing can be an issue for older drivers by limiting the ability to hear an approaching emergency vehicle or train. Common age-related vision problems — such as cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration — also can make it hard to see clearly or drive at night.
Inquire from your doctor how often to schedule vision and hearing tests. Even if you think your hearing and vision are fine, stick to your doctor’s recommended exam schedule. Issues might be easier to correct if caught early, and specialists can recommend timely adjustments to reduce your risk of an accident.
For example, an eye doctor (optometrist or ophthalmologist) might recommend driving only during daylight hours.
- Manage any chronic conditions
Go with your doctor’s direction to manage any chronic conditions — especially those that might impact driver safety, such as diabetes or seizures. Follow your doctor’s instructions for managing your condition and staying safe behind the wheel. This might include adjusting your treatment plan or limiting your driving.
It’s equally vital to know your medications. Many drugs, including pain medications, sleep medications, antihistamines and muscle relaxants, can affect driver safety, even when you’re feeling fine. Read your medication labels so that you know what to expect from each one.
Don’t drive if you have taken medication that causes drowsiness or dizziness. If you’re concerned about side effects or the impact on driver safety, speak to your doctor or pharmacist.
4. Understand your limitations
Consider your physical challenges and make any necessary adjustments. For example, if your hands hurt when gripping the steering wheel, use a steering wheel cover that will make holding and turning the wheel more comfortable.
You might request your doctor for a referral to an occupational therapist, who can give assistive devices to help you drive or suggest exercises to help you overcome your limitations.
You might also need to adjust your vehicle or choose a different vehicle to better meet your needs. For example, vehicles that feature larger, easier-to-read dials on the dashboard are often good with older drivers.
In addition, some newer models offer safety features that can assist you avoid collisions, change lanes safely, manage your blind spot, and more.
5. Drive when the roads — and you — are in good condition
You can also improve driver safety by driving during the daytime, in good weather, on quiet roads and in familiar areas. If visibility is poor, consider delaying your trip or making use of public transportation.
Beyond road conditions, make sure you’re in optimal condition to drive. Don’t drive if you are tired or angry.
Never drive after drinking alcohol or using other mind-altering substances. This includes marijuana — even if it’s been prescribed to you for medical use.
6. Stash your cellphone and focus on the road
Driving with distraction is a frequent cause of accidents. Take steps before you go to ensure your ability to focus.
When you get in your car, be prepared. Plan your route ahead of time so that you do not have to read a map or directions while driving. If you use a GPS device, enter your destination before you begin driving. If necessary, call ahead for directions.
While you’re driving, don’t do anything that takes your focus from the road — even eating or adjusting the radio.
Make a pledge to never use or even look at your cellphone while driving: no talking, texting or posting of any kind.
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The National Safety Council also speaks against any type of phone conversation or voice-to-text features while driving, including hands-free and Bluetooth devices.
7. Update your driving skills
Consider taking a refresher course for older drivers. Updating your driving skills might even earn you a discount on your car insurance, depending on your policy. Look for courses through a community education program or local organizations that serve older adults.
If you get confused while you’re driving or you’re concerned about your ability to drive safely — or others have expressed concern — it might be best to stop driving. Consider taking the bus, using a van service, hiring a driver or taking advantage of other local transportation options. Giving up your vehicle keys doesn’t need to end your independence. Instead, consider it a way to keep yourself and others safe on the road.