Google the title of this blog post, "How Seniors Can Protect Their Driving Privileges," and take a look at the results that pop up. The great majority of them are about anything but keeping seniors on the road, with titles like "How to Take Away the Car Keys" and "How to Surrender Your License." The prevalence of articles like these suggests there is a lot of concern about how safe senior drivers are on the road.
That concern isn't entirely unfounded. Although those aged 16-19 have the highest risk of motor vehicle crashes, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), the over-65 age group has the highest number of crash fatalities.
Naturally, if you are not a safe driver as an older adult, it will be necessary for you to give up your license and your car, no matter how difficult that might be. The risk to public safety would outweigh your personal desire and need to drive. Fortunately, there are things that you can do to delay or prevent the need for your loved ones to take away your car keys.
Age, in and of itself, doesn't make drivers less safe. It is usually physical conditions associated with aging. This may seem like a distinction without a difference, but there are things you can do to slow down the conditions that make it harder for you to drive, or to minimize their impact if you cannot prevent them.
Many people experience trouble with their eyesight as they age, such as macular degeneration, cataracts, or glaucoma. Obviously, your ability to see is critical to your ability to drive. Some problems you may notice are issues with your peripheral vision (seeing things that are not in your direct line of sight), difficulty seeing things at dusk or after dark, or experiencing a halo or increased glare from oncoming headlights. You might find it takes longer to read street signs or have trouble distinguishing lane markings.
What you can do: visit your eye doctor annually. You should specifically ask for recommendations on preserving your vision. If you have glasses, make sure your prescription is up to date and avoid frame styles that may block your peripheral vision. Keep your car windows and windshields clean, and consider raising your seat or using a seat cushion; changing your position in this way can help minimize glare from oncoming headlights. Avoid driving at dawn or dusk and after dark if at all possible.
Arthritis and muscle weakness can impair your driving by making it difficult for you to perform maneuvers, like turning the steering wheel or looking over your shoulder before changing lanes or braking quickly. As you age, your reflexes also tend to slow, and you need longer to react to situations that may arise suddenly while driving. You may not be able to brake as quickly as you once could.
Keep as physically active as you are able to and get as much exercise as you can. Give yourself extra space between yourselves and other drivers as often as possible, so you won't find yourself needing to brake suddenly.
What you can do: first and foremost, keep as physically active as you are able to and get as much exercise as you can. Beyond that, give yourself extra space between yourselves and other drivers as often as possible, so you won't find yourself needing to brake suddenly. Make sure that you have a car that makes driving easier on you, with power steering, automatic transmission, and large mirrors. If necessary, see about getting your vehicle outfitted with hand controls for brake and accelerator.
You may not think about it as often, but your hearing also affects your ability to drive safely: if you can't hear the siren of an approaching emergency vehicle, for instance, you may not realize it's necessary to pull over. You also need to be alert to the sound of other vehicles, and sounds within your car, like a blinker you've left on, or engine trouble.
What you can do: as with vision, regular hearing checkups are a must; every 1-2 years is ideal. Get a hearing aid if needed. Drive with the radio off to minimize auditory distractions in the car.
As you get older, you may find that you are taking an increasing number of medications. Always read the labels on your medicines to see if any of them recommend you don't drive while taking them. If any of your medicines interfere with safe driving ability, ask your doctor if there are alternatives. Likewise, make a list of all of your medicines and discuss it with your doctor to make sure that medication interactions won't cause you to be a danger on the road.
Last but not least... memory issues. Most of us have "senior moments" long before we're actually senior citizens, but a couple of things should give you pause if you are an older driver. If you find yourself getting lost easily, even on familiar roads, that may be a sign that memory issues are beginning to interfere with your driving. Other signs to watch for are dents and dings on your car that you can't remember how you got; an increasing number of traffic citations, especially if you rarely had any in the past; and frequent comments from friends, family, and neighbors regarding your driving.
If you are concerned about your ability to keep driving as you age, consider consulting with a driving rehabilitation specialist to identify weaknesses and enhance your driving ability. Taking a defensive driving course may also be helpful and might even lower your car insurance rates.
For this and other questions about issues affecting senior citizens, we invite you to contact our elder law practice.
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