Safe Driving for Seniors

5 Tips for Aging Drivers to Stay on the Road

By Alex Perdikis

In the Western world, driving is seen as a rite of passage for adolescents and a vital part of transitioning into adulthood. The ability to get from point A to point B without relying on buses or relatives opens up a whole new world of opportunities and fosters a sense of independence in young people.

Naturally, the idea of giving up driving once we reach a certain age can lead to fears about loss of quality of life and that all-important independence, especially with public transport costs on the rise. So, it’s no wonder that older drivers are reluctant to hang up their car keys for good.

Fortunately, there’s no concrete age when pensioners must cease driving. With a little luck and a lot of common sense, there’s no reason why you or your parents can’t still be behind the wheel at 75.

Safe driving for seniors is all about identifying and mitigating risks, so we’ve put together a list of five vital tips for aging drivers to stay safe on the road.

  1. Schedule Regular Optical Tests

Old age doesn’t necessarily make you a worse driver, but impaired vision can compromise your reaction times and judgments. It’s imperative that you make regular appointments with your optometrist to check for common conditions, such as macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma.

Even if you haven’t noticed any changes in your sight, don’t put off seeing your doctor. The brain is exceptionally good at filling in blanks in our vision to compensate for sight loss. The earlier that preventable conditions are detected, the better the prognosis.

  1. Limit Your Risks

To meet the challenges of driving as an older person, it’s important to be aware of risks and minimize them.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) notes that age-related declines in both vision and cognition speed make older drivers “vulnerable to crashes in complex situations that require good visual perception, attention and rapid response.”

So, even if you’re a pro at parallel parking or turning against fast-moving traffic, you should be increasingly cautious of this type of activity as you age and your reaction times slow.

Another sensible move is to avoid driving in wet and stormy conditions. If you find that your vision isn’t what it used to be, plan to drive during the daytime as night vision is often the first to become impaired.

  1. Check Your Medications

Whether you’re 19 or 90, medications can have a significant impact on your cognitive function and driving ability. Pain medications, benzodiazepines and muscle relaxants are particularly dangerous, as they can cause drowsiness, mind fog and/or mild spasticity. Ask your doctor about the best way to manage the risks and side effects associated with your medications. Generally these risks can be mitigated by something as simple as timing your driving around your medication schedule.

  1. Stay Active

Numerous studies have shown that staying active (both mentally and physically) into old age can help ward off dementia and more effectively maintain brain functions that are required for driving, such as memory and cognition. Research also suggests that many symptoms we attribute to aging can also be linked heavily to lifestyle.

So if you want to drive like a sprightly 30-year-old, try exercising like one! Just 30 minutes a day can increase the oxygen sent to your brain and deliver significant health benefits.

  1. Take a Driving Refresher Course

Once we ditch the learner’s permit, we tend to become a little less cautious on the road. In truth, we could all benefit from a periodic refresher course on road rules—but it’s even more important for older drivers. To make sure that you’re still fit to drive, consider taking a driving course aimed specifically at seniors. Not only will this reassure any worried family members and help you assess your own capabilities, but it may also make it easier for you to get a deal on car insurance as a senior driver. You can generally find these courses via local organizations, community centers or even your health care provider.

As long as you’re prepared to follow safe driving tips for seniors and minimize any risks that arise, you don’t have to give up driving just because you’ve hit the big 7-0! The key to staying on the road for as long as possible is staying safe and being sensible. Know your limits and never be afraid to ask for help from your family or doctor.