STATE — While traffic safety is important for all drivers, seniors experience physical changes that can affect their driving abilities. Although some seniors can drive well into their 70s, 80s and 90s, others cannot. It can be a tough adjustment for people who are used to using their cars to visit friends and family, attend doctor appointments and go shopping.
Seniors often equate losing their driving privileges to becoming dependent and losing control and spontaneity in their lives. However, there are simple safety steps older adults can take to ensure they are driving safely.
The ability to see clearly while driving changes with age. According to AAA, the amount of light needed to drive nearly doubles every 13 years. For example, a 45-year-old requires four times as much light as a 19-year-old, and a 60-year-old requires 10 times as much.
Change in vision is a common reason why many seniors have restricted licenses or have their licenses revoked. Good vision is crucial to driving and senior drivers should keep the following in mind:
- Get an annual eye exam. Your eyes change rapidly and early detection can slow the progress of many eye problems.
- Limit driving to the daytime. It takes more time for aging eyes to adjust to the glare of oncoming headlights.
- Keep your head and eyes moving. While driving look ahead of your vehicle for other vehicles, pedestrians, animals or hazards. While driving in the city look at least one block ahead and on the highway look 12 to 15 seconds ahead. Glance frequently in your rearview mirror.
- Keep your headlights, taillights and the inside and outside of your windshield clean. Choose a car with a clear windshield as tinted windows can reduce the amount of light entering the eye.
- Avoid wearing eyeglasses and sunglasses with wide frames that may restrict your side vision. Always keep your eyeglasses clean.
Many senior drivers take medications that may affect safe driving, leading to drowsiness and confusion. Seniors should talk to their doctors about the effects their medications may have on their driving abilities and follow these guidelines:
- Read the fine print. Many prescription and over-the-counter medication labels include the message “Do not use while operating heavy machinery.” Be cognizant of the warnings on your medications before getting behind the wheel.
- Consult with your doctor before taking any new medications. The interaction between certain drugs can affect your ability to safely drive.
- If any medications cause fatigue or disorientation, stop driving.
Physical and Mental Fitness
Driving takes strength, flexibility and coordination and seniors should continue to participate in physical exercise to keep their motor skills sharp. Mental fitness is also important as older minds sometimes react more slowly than younger minds. Here are some ways for seniors to enhance their physical and mental fitness:
- Take a brisk walk every day or start a garden in your backyard to stay physically fit.
- Stimulate your brain. Activities such as crossword puzzles, brain teasers and card games stimulate your mind and enhance your problem solving, memory, reasoning and concentration skills.
Alternatives for Older Drivers
A person’s driving ability is dependent on many factors. Chronological age is not always the best predictor of one’s ability to drive safely. If you or your loved one has had a series of minor accidents, is unable to concentrate, is getting lost on familiar roads or is unable to read or recognize ordinary road signs, it may be time to step out from behind the wheel. However, there are alternatives available. In-home care agencies such as Right at Home offer many companion services including transportation to doctor’s appointments and recreational activities, as well as shopping and errand services.
“We know that living independently has many benefits and we are privileged to help older adults maintain their independence and enjoy a full life,” said Beth Sholom, Owner of Right at Home of CNJ, LLC. “All older adults and their loved ones should be aware of traffic safety.”
Seniors can also utilize public transportation where available. There are often community agencies that provide volunteer transportation services for seniors, as well. These alternatives can give retired drivers the independence they once had while keeping them out of harm’s way.
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