Many older adults say that driving is one of the most important ways in which they maintain their freedom and independence as they age. But for some seniors, the changes that age can bring—like vision and hearing loss, cognitive challenges, or reduced mobility and flexibility—can make it more difficult than it used to be to drive safely and confidently.
This is why driver safety education is one of the services provided as part of the Age Well program from the Motion Picture and Television Fund. A centralized program designed to support healthy aging, Age Well offers seniors a pathway to health and wellness through services like medical and functional assessments, care coordination, in-home support, and education on topics like home modification and, of course, driver safety.
According to Age Well and other organizations that support senior drivers, while your driving ability doesn’t automatically get worse as you get older, it’s still important to be aware of how your driving skills might be affected by age-related factors. Some of the proactive steps that older drivers can take to ensure they can safely stay in the driver’s seat for years to come include:
Staying physically active.
Driving isn’t a particularly physical activity, but movements like turning the steering wheel, checking over your shoulder for other cars, and managing the gas and brake pedals still require a certain degree of strength and flexibility. To help keep these movements smooth and easy as you get older, it’s important to make physical activity part of your daily routine. Walking is a great, low-impact way to stay fit and keep limber, and you can also talk to your health care provider about stretching or strength training exercises that could be useful for maintaining your driving muscles.
Scheduling regular hearing and vision screenings.
It’s normal for hearing and vision to decline with age, but this can make safe driving more difficult for seniors. Impaired hearing can limit your ability to hear approaching vehicles (especially emergency vehicles), for example, while age-related vision problems like cataracts or macular degeneration can make it difficult to clearly see what’s happening on the road around you, particularly when driving at night. To help keep your hearing and vision as sharp as possible, schedule regular tests with your doctor or other specialists. Even if you think you’re seeing and hearing just fine, regular check-ups can help catch and correct any problems early, before they have the chance to impact your driving.
Managing chronic conditions.
Some health problems, such as diabetes or seizures, could affect driver safety, so it’s important that you work with your doctor to make sure you’re properly managing your condition. Ask your doctor how the condition might impact your driving, and whether you might need to adjust your treatment plan or restrict your driving in order to stay safe. If you’re taking medication, either to treat a chronic condition or for occasional ailments or pain, make sure you read and understand the labels: some medication, like pain relievers or muscle relaxants, can affect things like motor control or reaction time, so you should always know what to expect. Never drive if you’ve taken any medication that might cause drowsiness or dizziness.
Making adjustments to your vehicle.
To keep driving safely and comfortably as you get older, you may find that you need to make physical changes or adjustments to your vehicle. For example, if you’re not finding the steering wheel as easy to hold as it once was, you can try using a steering wheel cover to improve your grip and give you better control and comfort as you turn the wheel. It’s also possible that you might need to change your vehicle altogether to one that better meets your needs. For example, if you’re having trouble seeing your speedometer or other indicators on your dashboard, it may be a good idea to invest in a vehicle with larger, easier-to-read dials.
Taking a refresher driving course.
To boost safety and confidence, seniors might want to consider taking a refresher course specifically for older drivers. Commonly offered by local organizations for seniors or community education programs, these courses can be a great way to improve skills and get updated on the changing rules of the road. Depending on your policy, you might even be able to earn a discount on your car insurance.
Avoiding driving in poor conditions.
As an older driver, your chances of staying safe on the road are greatly improved when you stick to driving in good conditions. When possible, drive in the daytime, during good weather, and on quieter, familiar roads; avoid driving when visibility is low or during poor weather conditions. You’ll also want to make sure that you yourself are in good condition before you drive anywhere. Don’t drive if you’re tired or sick, if you’re feeling angry or frustrated, or if you’ve been drinking alcohol or consuming any other drugs, including medical marijuana.