Americans love to drive. And that love affair with automobiles doesn’t fade as we get older. In fact, being able to drive plays a key role in older adults’ ability to maintain their independence as the years go by.
But the risk of being injured or killed in a motor vehicle accident rises with age. Learning the risks older drivers face and what they can do to improve their driving can help keep you or a loved one safe on the road.
As people age, they experience a loss of vision, strength, coordination, flexibility, and reflexes. That can seriously impair their ability to do all the physical tasks needed to drive safely.
For example, pain and stiffness in the neck can make it more difficult to look left and right before entering an intersection. Decreased arm strength can make it harder to turn the steering wheel.
Age alone is not a useful gauge of a person’s ability to drive safely or not. Health conditions and medications, not age, are the main reasons it becomes unsafe for people to drive.
The following signs may warn that an older driver’s skills are likely to pose a safety risk for themselves, as well as others.
Getting lost on familiar routes
Receiving warnings or tickets for moving violations
Being overwhelmed by road signs
Driving too fast or too slow given the situation
Getting more and more vehicle dents, scratches, and other damage
Having a condition that can impact driving abilities, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, diabetes, glaucoma, cataracts, or sleep apnea
These steps may help you maintain the ability to drive safely as you age:
Ask your healthcare provider if any of your prescription or nonprescription medicines could harm your driving ability. Some medications make you drowsy, for instance.
Have your vision checked each year. Always wear your prescribed glasses or contact lenses.
Drive mostly during daylight or on routes that have well-lit streets.
Don’t follow other vehicles too closely.
Avoid busy roads and highways when you can.
Concentrate on driving by getting rid of distractions. Avoid cellphone use, loud radio volume, and eating while driving.
If you reach a point where it’s no longer safe for you to drive, consider asking friends or family members for a ride or help. Or take public transportation. Depending on where you live, your community may also offer rides through a senior services agency.