Safe Driving Guide for Older Mature Drivers
If you've been driving for quite a few years, you bring a wealth of experience and expertise to the task.
Certain changes which might occur in the aging process, however, could affect your driving skills. Fortunately, there are techniques to help you maximize your driving ability and minimize your injury risk.
Traffic situations on today's highways, roads, and streets present many challenges, but vehicle crashes can be prevented.
Always use both your lap and shoulder safety belt
Buckle up every time you drive even for short trips-and insist that your passengers do so, too. Safety belts save thousands of lives.
Keep mentally and physically fit
Proper nutrition, exercise, adequate rest, and stress management will help you maintain your driving skills. Aging or medical conditions that could affect your driving performance include ankle rigidity, wrist pain or weakness, and knee or hip pain or decreased range of motion.
Get regular medical check ups, eye exams, and hearing tests
If you are being treated for a medical condition, talk to your doctor about the advisability of driving.
Your coordination, flexibility, and reaction time-important skills to driving-depend on your physical and mental condition. You should have thorough examinations every year and alert your doctors if there's been any change.
Your vision provides 85-90 percent of the information needed to drive. Your driving ability can be affected by cataracts, glaucoma, or other visual changes.
Never drink and drive
Know how medications affect your ability to drive Some medications slow reaction time, diminish concentration, blur vision, or hamper mobility. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if any prescription or over-the-counter medicine that you are taking could interfere with your ability to drive.
Keep informed of traffic laws and safety developments
Traffic regulations sometimes change. Contact your state department of motor vehicles and request the latest rules of the road. You may wish to take a driver's education "refresher" course. Organizations offer classes in many cities to update the mature driver.
Contact your local AAA club for the AAA's "Safe Driving for Mature Operators" course.
Call 1-800-621-6244 to ask about the National Safety Council's Defensive Driving Course for the mature driver.
Driving safely requires your full attention.
To reduce distractions:
Focus on the traffic ahead, behind and next to you. Don't let the scenery divert your attention from the road.
Limit conversation to only what is necessary.
Keep the radio off or the volume low.
Do not permit smoking in your car. Smoke may aggravate your congestion and interfere with your night vision.
Drive at the posted speed limit or stay in the right lane if you are driving slower. If you feel that cars are going too fast, switch to a different route.
Drive defensively and yield the right-of-way.
Do not drive when you are tired.
Pace yourself. Take a break after every 1 1/2 to two hours of driving. Get out of the car and stretch. Be sure to drink adequate amounts of water.
If you need eyeglasses to drive, wear them each time you take a trip, even if it's only a short distance.
Avoid driving a car that has tinted windshields.
The American Association of Retired Persons recommends that under good weather conditions, leave enough space between you and the car ahead of you so that it takes three seconds to reach what that driver just passed. In bad weather, extend that to five seconds.
Prepare in advance for long trips. Plan your route on a map, noting exits, landmarks, expected mileage, etc. Get enough rest the night before you leave. Carry bottled water and a first aid kit in the car.
Clean your vehicle's headlights, taillights, windshield (inside and out), and rear window on a regular basis.
Keep your vehicle in good operating condition.
If you have noticed that it now takes longer to respond to situations while you drive, ask someone you trust to accompany you on a driving trip and monitor how well you drive.
To reduce injury risk
Always wear safety belts. Don't don't drink and drive.
Avoid busy streets, roads, and intersections.
Maintain a greater distance between you and the car ahead of you.
Alter your route to avoid turning left. (Studies show many accidents involving older people occur when they make a left turn.)
Avoid driving in the rush hour, if possible.
Avoid traveling during heavy rainstorms or when there is snow or ice on the roads.
Drive shorter distances.
Drive during daylight hours only. Try to avoid traveling in the direction of the sun as it sets or rises. The intensity of the sun can be very stressful on the eyes.
Driving a car with power steering, power brakes, automatic transmission, and adjustable seats and steering wheel can compensate for loss of strength and flexibility. In more severe cases, special devices can be added to a vehicle to assist with many driving functions.
Don't slouch or hunch forward in the car; sit up straight. Hard car seats provide more support for your back. Adjust the driver's seat so your shoulders are parallel to the top of the steering wheel.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety brochure, "A Flexibility Training Package for Improving Older Driver Performance," is available free of charge by sending a self-addressed, stamped (business size) envelope to Flexibility Guide, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 1440 New York Ave., NW, Suite 201, Washington, D.C. 20005.