We all treasure our mobility and independence, regardless of age. While older drivers may have decades of safe driving experience behind them, normal age-related changes can cause a gradual decline in vision, hearing, and/or the ability to react quickly behind the wheel. With more cars and more congestion on the road in most areas across the U.S., it’s important to note how physical changes may affect your driving ability as you get older, and to take some precautions to help ensure your safety while driving.
Let’s take a closer look at some of these physical changes and what they mean to you as a driver.
Deteriorating vision. Difficulty reading street signs or seeing lane markings, other vehicles, and pedestrians are all signs of deteriorating vision. Night blindness and bright lights can also be problematic for some. If you’re experiencing these changes, consider the following guidelines:
Those age 60 and over are advised to visit the optometrist once a year to test for glaucoma, cataracts, and other vision changes or impairments. Make sure your prescription glasses are up to date. Avoid wearing old prescription glasses or glasses with side-pieces that block peripheral vision, especially when you are driving.
If you’re sensitive to light, ask your optometrist if treatments are available. Avoid driving at night, if possible; do not wear sunglasses in the evening or at night; and drive in a car with clear glass rather than tinted windows.
Increase brightness on the dash panels, and keep your windshield, headlights, and mirrors clean.
Use seat cushions to elevate yourself, if necessary. Your posture behind the wheel should allow you to see at least 10 feet ahead of your car.
Physical limitations. If you have a sedentary lifestyle, are prone to falls, or suffer from muscle weakness or joint pain, it may be difficult to use the foot pedals and/or maneuver in ways that are required to operate a motor vehicle safely. For help with physical limitations, you may want to take these safety measures:
Consult with your health care provider about an appropriate exercise program. A daily walk, for example, could reap significant benefits.
Drive a car with an automatic transmission to minimize hand and foot motion. Occupational therapists or certified driving rehabilitation specialists may prescribe special pedals or other assistive devices to promote or maintain mobility.
If you’re hearing impaired, lower noise levels inside your car. Watch for emergency vehicles, as you may not hear the sirens. If you wear a hearing aid, be aware that wind from an open window may affect its performance.
To avoid injury in the event of an accident, keep at least 10 inches between you and the airbag panels. Always wear your seatbelt.
Slowed reflexes or processing skills. If you take medications that may cause confusion, drowsiness, or dizziness, talk with your doctor. Certain medications can cause side effects that interfere with your ability to drive. You may be able to change your medication or adjust the dosage.
Safe Driving Tips
If you are feeling less confident while driving, travel only in familiar territory during the day in non-rush-hour traffic. Remember to leave a four-second space between your car and the one in front of you. This is how you would gauge that space: when you’re approaching a road sign, start counting from the time the car ahead of you reaches the sign until the time you do. When at an intersection, look left and right, not just straight ahead. As you’re driving, scan the road to be prepared for the unexpected.
You may also want to refresh your driving skills through a mature driving program. The AARP offers driver safety programs designed to help drivers age 50+ improve their skills, prevent accidents, and avoid traffic violations. For more information on classroom or online refresher courses, visit www.aarp.org. To maintain your independence and mobility for as long as possible, make your safety, as well as the safety of other drivers and passengers, a top priority.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.
This article was prepared by Liberty Publishing, Inc.
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