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Everything You Need To Know About Seniors And Driving

There can be no greater feeling than the freedom of getting out and onto the road all your own. Many of us spend much of our childhood years longing for the day that our parents might hand over the keys, move out of our way, as we head out into the night, or even take ourselves to school in the morning.

Senior woman driving a car on street in city
Updated onApr. 25, 2022

Moving into adulthood, it probably never dons on most of us that driving was once a privilege. Our drivers license, no longer badges of honor, become identification that never leaves our person. The roads that we travel become a backdrop to our lives, as we commute to the places where we live, learn and grow.

However, as we age, there are many factors to consider when it comes to driving and whether adjustments can make our trips safer for us and the people who share the road around us. Additionally, educating yourself about these factors, potential risks and possible solutions may result in a decision to stay off the road.

Before you make a decision, here is everything you should know.

When deciding if it is safe for you to continue driving, you will likely need to assess your physical condition. There are several aspects of your physical health you may not have attributed as essential to your driving experience.

Three of the most important aspects of your physical health that come into play when you are behind the wheel are your vision, hearing and coordination.

In all three cases, it is imperative that you consult a medical professional for detailed information about your condition.

In the event that your visionis declining or inconsistent, it can be particularly difficult to identify street signs, safety markers, stoplights, hazards, other vehicles, pedestrians and even instruments within your vehicle that are key to your driving experience.

In order to remedy a possible vision issue, you may want to limit your driving to the daytime, as it is more difficult to see while driving at night. As best you can, you might also want to avoid driving in hazardous weather, such as rain, snow, or sleet, as risk factors increase, and precipitation can impair vision.

For those who rely on glasses or contacts, be sure to always have them  in your vehicle when departing out onto the road.

The ability to hear proficiently is an extremely vital part of driving. You may not always realize how important hearing is to your perception when you are driving. Sounds inside and outside your car can tell you quite a bit about what is happening while you’re on the road. If you’re unable to identify emergency sirens, vehicles, passersby and other things on the road, you can be less inclined to make appropriate decisions when driving. A great way to enhance your hearing while operating your vehicle is to simply turn down any distractions, such as your car radio, while you drive.

Your physical coordinationcomes into play when you are driving. Aches, pains and other issues can affect your range of motion, rendering you less apt to perform the motions associated with safe driving. These motions can including reaching to shift or looking over your shoulder to check a blind spot.

Your overall physical health is a unique variable you should also be honest with yourself about. Any chronic physical ailments you suffer from can be major detractors from your personal road safety. These risks can also potentially put others in harms way. Have a talk with your doctor about conditions, such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, seizures and other chronic issues which can cause you trouble behind the wheel.

Equally important as your physical health to your ability to drive is your mental ability to handle the tasks associated with life on the road.

One of the first things to consider is your reaction time. Are you able to notice vital information on the road? Are you able to make quick decisions in order to keep yourself and others safe? Can your brain register the actions required to carry through with these decisions and signal to your body to make the proper adjustments in a reasonable window of time?

These are all questions associated with your reflexes and reaction time. And, as you age, you may not be sure that you can depend on your brain to be able to respond efficiently when challenged. It would be wise to ask proactive questions to your doctor regarding your reflexes when considering your driving ability.

Much like your physical health, there are a host of conditions that gravely affect your mental disposition, rendering you a risk on the road. Men and women who suffer from conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia should certainly have a conversation with their doctor about the realities of the road. Milder conditions that may affect stress, attention span, concentration should also be taken into consideration. Many of these conditions can be alleviated or eradicated completely with some simple adjustments to your driving technique or your vehicle, itself.

After considering risk factors, you may feel it is necessary to make the decision to surrender your license. However, there may be several ways to alter your driving experience, enhancing your ability to be safe while driving. With a few adjustments, you could continue your life on the road while being mindful of personal and public safety.

Your overall physical health is a unique variable you should also be honest with yourself about. Any chronic physical ailments you suffer from can be major detractors from your personal road safety.

The first thing you can do to put yourself and your loved ones at ease is to be aware of your medications and its affect on your driving. Regardless of age, many drivers ignore warning labels on prescription medications when warned not to operate a motor vehicle or heavy machinery, putting others and themselves at great risks. A responsible decision would require you to be diligent about knowing the effects of any medications you take daily. By avoiding the road while under the effect of any medications which can hinder your perception on the road, you can do yourself and others a big favor.

In effort to be more physically sound in your vehicle, you can make sure that the instruments in your car that are essential to your driving are well within reach. Most modern cars allow you to adjust many of its amenities to meet your personal comfort. You can often use these settings to your advantage in order to compensate any difficulties you are having with operating your vehicle.

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You may want to adjust the height of your driver’s seat in order to better reach the steering wheel, reach the pedal or see your surroundings. Some vehicles may also allow you to bring the steering wheel closer to your seated position. You can also raise or lower the steering wheel to meet your comfort. Be mindful that your steering wheel should not be too close to your chest area. A steering wheel too far close to you can limit your range of motion. It can also be a hazard, as an airbag, when deployed, can cause injury to your chest area.

Additionally, you can adjust your side mirrors to help you maintain awareness of the obstacles around your vehicle.

Lastly, you might be able to purchase devices, such as a pedal extension to help your driving experience become more efficient and comfortable.

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After several decades behind the wheel, you may feel as if there is very little left for you to learn about the rules, regulations and habits of driving. A drivers safety class could help you adjust to new techniques that could save your life and others.

A 2017 survey revealed that almost one-third of seniors have no emergency savings and 70 percent have less than six months of savings

Mature Driver Courses are geared directly at seniors who want to be proactive about any possible decline in their motoring skills. Specifically, these courses can instill hands-on training in defensive driving, modern road rules, vehicle-specific technology, state-specific laws, and much more.

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Organizations such as the AARPAAA, and local DMVs have guided information to help seniors get paired with competent Mature Driver programs. Depending on availability your area and preference, you can opt to learn in a classroom setting or even online.