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Seven Senior Safety Suggestions

Just because you've aged doesn't mean your driving safety should be compromised. With a few adjustments and an acute awareness of your abilities, you can continue to drive without feeling like you're in danger of a collision.

To stay safe the next time you get behind the wheel, consider these 7 safety suggestions geared toward senior drivers.

1) Take Stock of Your Health

As you age, physical and mental changes can affect your ability to operate a vehicle safely. Schedule regular appointments with your physician to monitor:

  • Pain or stiffness in your joints.
    • This may affect your ability to control the steering wheel or turn to look into safety mirrors.
  • Any chronic conditions.
    • Diabetes, seizures, and other conditions could affect your safety on the road. It's best to discuss your driving options with your doctor before operating a vehicle.
  • Fatigue.
    • This can be a problem depending on the length of your trip.
  • Stress.
    • If your stress levels are high, driving could aggravate any other health conditions you may have.
    • It's best to speak with your doctor about lowering your stress levels before you drive, especially if you are at risk for any heart-related health conditions.

2) Schedule Hearing & Vision Tests

In addition to visiting your doctor for general health checkups, vision and hearing screenings also need to be performed regularly.

Here are a few things to keep in mind to ensure your safety out on the road:

  • If you wear glasses or contact lenses, ALWAYS have them while driving.
  • Be aware of conditions that might be affecting your vision, such as:
    • Cataracts.
    • Glaucoma.
    • Macular degeneration.
  • If you feel like your vision is worsening, consult with your optometrist.
  • Recognize signs of trouble seeing at night.
    • If so, you may need to stick with daytime driving only.
  • If you have problems hearing other vehicles or emergency sirens when you drive, get a hearing aid.
  • Keep the noise inside the vehicle to a minimum.
    • This includes music and conversations with your passengers.

3) Be Realistic About Your Limitations

As you age, it's important to simply be aware of and honest about any limitations that you find yourself up against, so that you can be proactive about making the necessary adjustments to ensure your safety—and that of all other drivers around you.

Some of these adjustments can include the following:

  • Increase your following distance.
    • By doing so, you allow yourself more reaction time when it's time to hit the brakes.
  • Use the brakes early.
    • When you first see that a stop sign, red light, or other obstacle is approaching, begin braking early. This will help you to avoid the need for a hard brake at the last minute, and could also compensate for any dissonance in your spatial awareness.
  • Avoid busy areas.
    • When there's a lot happening at once, your awareness of your surroundings will suffer. Try to find alternative routes with less traffic congestion.
  • Try to anticipate rather than react.
    • Scan as far down the road as possible. This will help you plan your course of action instead of having to react suddenly.

4) Check Your Medications

Certain medications can affect your ability to operate a motor vehicle. For each of the medications you have been prescribed, be sure to:

  • Read the label carefully.
    • If it states that you should not drive or operate heavy machinery while taking the medication, DO NOT DRIVE.
    • If there is nothing on the label, BUT you feel as though your mental or physical abilities are altered when taking the medication, contact your doctor and report the effects you're feeling. He or she may encourage you to find alternative transportation while taking the meds.
  • Ask the pharmacist about the medication when it's prescribed.
    • If the medication is known to affect driving ability, the pharmacist may be able to adjust your dosage or recommend a time of day when it's best to take them.
  • Avoid driving if you feel drowsy or lightheaded.

5) Adjust Your Driving Position

By adjusting the position of the driver's seat, you can make it easier to:

  • Reach the steering wheel.
  • See your side mirrors.
  • Recognize obstacles down the road.
  • Control the vehicle.
  • Reach the gas pedal and brake.

Here are just a few of the adjustments to your driving position you may want to consider:

  • Keep the steering wheel at a comfortable but significant distance from your chest.
    • If the steering wheel is too close, it could result in an injury should an airbag deploy.
  • Raise the height of the seat so that your eyes are a few inches above the steering wheel.
    • You can do this by:
      • Adjusting the steering wheel itself.
      • Adjusting the height of your seat.
      • Sitting on an additional seat cushion, if necessary.
  • Move your side mirrors to avoid blind spots.
  • Raise or lower the headrest so that it is directly behind your head.
  • Consider a pedal extension if you have difficulty reaching the accelerator or brake.

6) Avoid Dangerous Conditions

Did you know that there are certain times when senior drivers will be more at risk? For this reason, try to avoid the following driving conditions when possible:

  • Inclement weather.
    • It will be more difficult to control your vehicle, and your visibility will be limited.
  • At night.
    • Especially if your vision is not at its peak, dark surroundings give you less time to see, process, and react to your environment—and if your vehicle windows have any tint, your vision will be even more limited.
  • During rush hour.
    • With an increased number of cars on the road, coupled with impatient drivers attempting to dart in and out of lanes to get ahead faster, rush hour can be one of the most dangerous times to drive for seniors dealing with impaired vision and/or reaction times.
    • Additionally, your stress levels are likely to be higher, making it more difficult to maintain acute awareness of all that is happening around you.

7) Take a Mature Driver Course

One of the best ways to be proactive about your driving safety as an aging driver is to look into a mature driver safety course. Brushing up on your driving skills and refreshing your memory as it relates to the rules of the road can boost your confidence and help you stay safe while driving.

Enrolling in a senior driving course may also help you to learn:

  • Defensive driving techniques.
  • Updated state-specific laws, including those related to:
    • Safety belts.
    • Cell phones & texting.
    • Road signs.
    • Common traffic violations.
  • Avoiding distracted driving.
  • Making right-of-way decisions.

For more information, we've put together a guide to mature driver courses to set you on the road to safe driving for many years to come.

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