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Senior Driving: Safety Tips, Warning Signs, and Knowing When to Stop

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Senior Driving
Safety Tips, Warning Signs, and Knowing When to Stop

Driver safety is an important and often sensitive issue for seniors. The changes of normal aging can sometimes interfere with the ability to drive. Learn to reduce these risk factors. Drive safely longer by taking care of your health and incorporating safe driving practices. However, safety must come first. If you need to reduce your driving or eventually give up the keys, it doesn’t mean the end of your independence. With help from family, friends, community resources, a positive outlook, and personal action, you can remain mobile without driving.

Facts about driving and aging

Everyone ages differently, so some people can continue to drive into their seventies, eighties, and even beyond while others cannot or should not. However, the statistics on older adults and driving can be sobering.

Older adults and accidents
Statistics show that the elderly are more likely than other drivers to receive traffic citations for failing to yield, turning improperly, and running red lights and stop signs—all indications of decreased driving ability. It is a fact that older adults are at higher risk for road accidents than other age groups. Older drivers are more likely to get into multiple-vehicle accidents than younger people do, and the accidents are more dangerous for them than for younger drivers. A person 65 or older who is involved in a car accident is more likely to be seriously hurt, more likely to require hospitalization, and more likely to die than younger people involved in the same crash. Truth is, fatal crash rates rise sharply after a driver has reached the age of 70.

Environmental factors
There are environmental factors as well. These affect people of all ages and include signs and road markings that are difficult to see or read, complex and confusing intersections, older vehicles that lack automatic safety features, and newer dashboard instrument panels with multiple displays. Such factors are often amplified in those seniors who experience a decline in their ability to drive, and become very risky. For all of these reasons, you want to stay alert to your own driving experiences and be willing to admit and discuss any difficulties and concerns with a relative or someone else you trust.

Lessening aging risk factors that affect safe driving
It is easy to overlook problems that develop slowly over time because we typically accommodate our daily activities to what we can comfortably do. Consequently, issues like vision or hearing loss, decreasing physical activity, growing forgetfulness, or the impact of prescription and over-the-counter drugs are hardly noticed. Any one or a combination of these conditions can make driving hazardous.

Decrease risks by taking control of your health
The most important and positive action you can take is to decrease the driving risks associated with aging. Do not wait until problems become serious. Tending to your health and well-being on a regular basis can help in your efforts to stay independent and mobile. The most common risk factors related to safe driving are listed below along with suggested steps you can take:

Helping yourself drive safely

Visual decline
Get eyes checked every year and make sure that corrective lenses are current. Keep the windshield, mirrors, and headlights clean, and turn brightness up on the instrument panel on your dashboard.

Hearing loss
Have hearing checked annually. If hearing aids are prescribed, make sure they are worn while driving

Limited mobility and increased reaction time
An occupational therapist or a certified driving rehabilitation specialist can prescribe equipment to make it easier to steer the car and to operate the foot pedals.

Talk with a doctor about the effects of medications you are taking on driving ability.

Sleeping well is essential to driving well. If there are problems, try to improve nighttime sleep conditions and talk with a doctor about the effect of any sleep medications on driving.

Dementia and brain impairment
If there are any signs of dementia or brain impairment, limit driving and consult a doctor.

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