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Ensuring Safe Driving for Seniors

Jan 28, 2019 by Stephanie Howe - Owner, Comfort Keepers

Many say driving is a right. This is incorrect; driving is a privilege. Before we turn sixteen, we dream of owning a car and the freedom of the open road. As we get older and obtain our driver’s license, the realities of driving falls upon us. We now think about gas prices, mileage and car repairs. Yet, we still love the freedom of the road.

For senior drivers, the priorities about driving change. We no longer fret over how our driver’s license picture looks or having enough cargo space in our car. We are more concerned about driver safety because we experienced physical changes, such as Parkinson’s disease, macular degeneration or rheumatoid arthritis. And the risk of a getting into a fatal car accident increases after age 70. Thus, it’s important to make sure we (or our elderly loved ones) are on a healthy diet as well as stay physically fit. Warning signs your driving skills have started to decline due to age are increased tickets, auto accidents (minor or major), close calls (near accidents), trouble with the basics of driving and problems with memory (e.g. Alzheimer’s). Also, passenger comments can indicate if there have been changes in your driving habits. If you are experiencing any of these signs, it may be time to explore other transportation options, such as public transportation or family members.

Safe Senior Driving Tips

As an older driver, it’s recommended to review your driving habits after age 65. Check out the tips below to ensure safe driving.

  1. Get annual check ups. This includes both a vision test and a physical examination. A chronic condition affects your driving ability (i.e. reaction time), which can hinder your ability to make sudden movements, whether you are turning your head or body. With your vision, your depth perception should not have greatly decreased and you should be able to see obstacles or objects at a distance. If you are experiencing floaters or hazy vision, see your eye doctor. For physical limitations, stiffness in the neck and back can affect the way you drive.
  2. Stay active. When you are active, you are improving your strength and vision as well as your flexibility. You can also keep your mind sharp through diet and mind exercises (i.e. puzzles). If you begin to have memory problems (e.g. early stage of Alzheimer’s disease) or if a loved one has alerted you about them, you need to talk to your doctor. Also, if you have experienced a major health issue, such as a stroke or heart attack, an occupational or a rehabilitation specialist may help you regain the skills needed to drive again.
  3. Drive under the right conditions. If you know that you cannot see well at night or when it rains, then you should limit your driving to better weather conditions. Snow and ice are conditions you should avoid driving in. If you must drive, choose to drive on sunny days on quiet roads and not during rush hour. It’s important to note your emotional state when driving too. When you are angry or upset, you are more prone to making poor driving decisions, such as not making lane changes properly or driving too fast.
  4. Avoid distractions. Being distracted while driving can mean many things:
  • Listening to the radio
  • Smoking, eating or drinking
  • Scolding passengers or other drivers
  • Talking on a cell phone
  1. Update your driving skills. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offers a mature driving course, such as the OL Mature Driver Improvement Course. AAA (American Automobile Association) and AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) also offer senior driving courses as well as a tool for your own driving assessment and information on senior driving skills. Check with your local DMV for a senior driving course. Learning defensive driving, reviewing your driving habits and brushing up on traffic laws are also recommended. As an older person, you can earn a discount on your car insurance when you take a driving course!
  2. Adjust your driving position. When you drive comfortably, you will be able to see clearly in all mirrors as well as the front and back windshields. You should adjust your driver’s seat and your side mirrors if you are having vision issues. The driving wheel should be a comfortable distance from your chest. Sitting too close to the steering wheel can result in a chest injury in an accident. This may sound obvious, but you should be able to reach the gas and brake pedals easily and be able to clearly identify each pedal.
  3. Check your medication. If you have just been prescribed a new medication, be sure to check the label for warnings, such as “may cause sleepiness” or “do not operate machinery.” Be aware of the side effects, such as nausea and blurred vision. Also, check for dangerous interactions with other medications and/or foods. For more information on medication use and driving, check out the AAA foundation for traffic safety’s LongRoad Study.
  4. Review current traffic laws. There have been some changes to the traffic safety laws regarding seatbelts and cell phones. You must wear a seatbelt when in a vehicle, whether you are the driver or passenger. Also, cell phone usage while driving (i.e. texting) has been banned in several states. Be sure to check your state cell phone use while driving law for details. While you can use the Bluetooth connection in a vehicle for hands-free usage, the conversation can still be distracting, especially if you become upset or angry. For everyone’s safety, do not use your cell phone while driving.
  5. Choose a vehicle with advanced safety features. Motor vehicles today come with many safety features to help keep the driver (and passengers) stay safe on the road. These features include:
  • Safe lane assist – An audio and a visual signal indicates if you have veered into the lane next to you as well as letting you know someone is in your “blind spot” before attempting to change lanes.
  • Smart braking – the vehicle automatically brakes within a certain distance from the vehicle in front of you to avoid collision.
  • Electronic stability control – Power is reduced to individual wheels to provide control during a turn.
  • Adaptive headlights – Aside from new bulb technology that allows for more light, headlights now provide forward illumination for better visibility based on road conditions.
  • Park assist – Some vehicles can park themselves! However, this is only for parallel parking.
  • Rear-view cameras – Provide drivers with better view of what is behind them. Some vehicles come with a 360º camera, which provides views all around the car.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has more information on automotive technology and the timeline of technological achievements.

In additional to driving safely, it is important to know the driver’s license renewal procedure for your state. For example, in Alaska, drivers renew their driver’s license every five years. A number of changes can occur during this period of time, such as health issues or purchasing a new car.

Senior Care & Guidance in Central New Jersey

We take great pride in providing customized in-home care for seniors in the greater Robbinsville area. Even if you are not ready to hire in-home care for you or a loved one, we are here to answer your questions. Our expertly trained staff will guide you on the many services we offer, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia care, respite care and interactive caregiving. Contact us today for a free in-home consultation!

 

Note: Article Originally Published Here.

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