Driving safety isn’t just about adhering to road rules: It’s also about understanding and adapting to the changes our bodies undergo with age. Conditions affecting vision, cognition, and physical mobility play a significant role in one’s ability to drive safely. 

Improve driving safety

That’s why it’s vital to take every step possible to improve driving safety as we grow older.

  • Manage health conditions. Talk to your doctor about whether any health conditions that you have or medications you take can affect your driving. Manage any health conditions well to prevent complications that can impair your ability to drive.
  • Get regular eye exams. Much of our driving is about vision, which often declines with age. Get an eye exam at least every year and use corrective lenses as prescribed. If you experience problems with night vision, talk to your eye doctor about options to reduce glare and halos.
  • Have your hearing checked to make sure you can be fully aware of what’s going on around you on the road.
  • Consider vehicle adjustments. If you have mobility or other physical limitations, you may be able to have your vehicle modified to improve both comfort and safety.
  • Stay fit. Maintaining physical flexibility and reaction time can keep you safely on the road for longer.
  • Refresher courses. Consider taking a defensive driving course to learn strategies to stay safe when interacting with other drivers, pedestrians, kids, and animals that may run into the road.
  • Get a safety update. Car-Fit.org provides education to make sure seniors know how the safety features in their car work.
  • Have a driving assessment. An occupational therapist can perform a driving assessment and develop a plan to keep you driving for as long as possible.

Plan ahead

Most people end up driving for seven to 10 years longer than they should, which puts them and others on the road at risk. It’s smart to have a plan in place in the event that you ever face the possibility of no longer being safe on the road. Having a plan doesn’t mean you’re going to stop driving—just that you won’t find yourself trapped if it’s unavoidable.

You should identify three ways to get where you need to go, such as getting a ride from a friend or family member, taking a taxi or Uber, or using public transportation. If you’re considering relocating, look into public transportation availability before you move to a new area.

When it’s time to stop driving

Keep an eye out for signs that you or a loved one might no longer be safe on the road, such as frequent close calls, unexplained dents or scratches on the vehicle, difficulty navigating familiar routes, and difficulty processing and responding to sudden changes in the driving environment.

Not everyone recognizes the warning signs. A person of sound cognitive abilities may notice they he or she is having trouble with night vision or having frequent fender benders, but someone with cognitive decline or dementia may not remember that these things are occurring at all. In that case, it’s important for a loved one to step in to take the keys.

Personal responsibility

Driving requires the ability to respond promptly and with sound judgment in an environment filled with variables. As people age, they are more vulnerable to injury in even a low-speed crash, and a more serious crash could kill the driver, other drivers, or even a child, pedestrian, or pet. The conversation of when it’s time to hang up the keys is larger than one of freedom; it’s one of personal responsibility.

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