Safe driving for seniors requires much more than just being able to adequately understand road signs and obey traffic laws. As seniors age, they experience physical changes that can affect many of their senses. For example, some seniors may find it difficult to turn their head to look for oncoming traffic, while others may experience problems with night vision. Still, it is completely possible for seniors to remain safe while driving. Five tips for older drivers are listed below.
1. Make sure to attend regular vision and hearing tests
Hearing and vision are two main senses that decline as people age. Impaired hearing is a concern many older drivers face, as it limits their ability to hear emergency vehicle sirens, other vehicles blowing their horns or even oncoming trains. Age-related vision difficulties come in the form of cataracts, glaucoma or macular degeneration. Impaired vision makes it difficult for seniors to see clearly or drive safely at night. Seniors should ask their primary care doctor how often to schedule vision and hearing tests. Many seniors mistakenly believe their hearing and vision is fine, when they actually have some degree of impairment. The encouraging news is that vision and hearing problems may be easier to correct when caught early.
2. Manage chronic illnesses consistently
Driving seniors should work with their doctors to manage any chronic illnesses, especially those conditions that ultimately impact driver safety. Examples of these illnesses could be diabetes or seizures. Seniors should always follow any instructions or suggestions from their doctor in order to properly manage medical conditions, as this leads to increased safety behind the wheel. It is equally important for seniors to understand the medications they take on a daily basis. Many drugs can ultimately affect driver safety. Seniors are encouraged to read all medication labels thoroughly so they know their side effects. Seniors should never drive when taking a medication that potentially causes drowsiness or dizziness.
3. Understand physical driving limitations
Physical limitations should always be considered when seniors are driving. For example, if an older driver’s hands hurt each time they grip the steering wheel, they can opt to use a steering wheel cover that makes gripping the wheel a more comfortable experience. Another option for seniors is to adjust their vehicle seat or choose a different vehicle that better meets their needs. Additionally, seniors can ask their doctor to refer them to a reputable occupational therapist. An occupational therapist can offer seniors many different assistive devices that help when driving or even suggest performing certain exercises that help seniors overcome physical limitations.
4. Choose to drive only under optimal conditions
Seniors are able to improve driver safety by choosing to drive only in certain conditions. For example, seniors can choose to drive only during the daytime, in good weather, on non-busy roadways and around familiar areas. In addition, seniors can easily plan alternate routes and avoid rush-hour traffic. In times of poor visibility, such as heavy fog, seniors can delay trips.
5. Keep driving skills sharp
Seniors should consider taking a refresher course for older drivers. Seniors should look for courses available through community education programs or local senior organizations. Additionally, it is imperative for seniors to know when to consider other transportation alternatives. If seniors become concerned about their own ability to drive safely, it may be a good idea for them to stop driving. Alternate transportation can include riding the bus, using a van service, calling a taxi, employing a personal driver or taking advantage of public transportation.