As we age, it can be tough to accept that our abilities to do everyday things we’ve always done also change. For some it’s running marathons; for others it’s fixing old cars or cooking elaborate meals.
But for almost everyone, it’s also driving.
It’s very common for people to face challenges behind the wheel as they get older, so it’s critical to be aware of the possible risks involved and to be vigilant about taking the necessary measures to avoid them.
The only thing you absolutely shouldn’t do is ignore issues that arise, which can put you and others in danger. Here are a few helpful tips to help you ensure that you continue driving safely for years to come.
1. Get Checked Out
The first step to making sure you’re fit to drive is to get your health checked regularly. The most important aspects for driving are your vision and hearing, so keep up with annual check-ups on each. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, it’s absolutely essential that you get new ones each time your prescription changes.
But vision and hearing aren’t the only issues that can impair your driving abilities. If you have stiffness in your neck or back, for example, it could be difficult to turn your head to check your blind spots. And if your legs or arms are weak or sore, your ability to steer or break and accelerate could be diminished. Be aware of your body and if anything feels out of sorts, don’t risk driving until you’ve addressed the issue.
2. Maintain Your Vehicle
It’s just as important to keep your car in good working condition as it is to maintain your physical health. First, consider that it’s best for seniors to drive cars that are easy to drive – cars with power steering, anti-lock breaks, automatic transmission, and 4-wheel drive are ideal.
It’s also crucial that you take your car to a mechanic for regular inspections, regardless of whether or not you notice any problems. You can even look into having modifications made to the steering wheel and pedals, which will make driving easier as your needs change. Consult a driving rehabilitation specialist to find out if you might benefit from a modification.
3. Know Your Limits
One of the best things you can do to ensure your safety is to be honest with yourself about your own limitations behind the wheel. For example, if you know that you have problems seeing well in the dark, make changes in your schedule so that you don’t have to drive at night. It’s also not uncommon for people to become more easily overwhelmed as they age. If that’s the case for you, avoid driving on busy highways or during peak traffic times.
4. Minimize Distractions
Distractions are a major causes of driving accidents in people of all ages. Paying attention to the many things that are happening around you can be challenging enough, even without added distractions. Avoid these kinds of activities while you’re behind the wheel: talking on the phone, looking at directions, eating, or putting on makeup. If you need to do anything that will require your attention, pull over first.
If you frequently drive to unfamiliar places, you should also consider getting a GPS device that delivers directions aloud so that you don’t have to consult a map while you’re driving. Most smartphones have audio GPS capabilities as well. Just be sure to input your destination and confirm the route before you start driving.
5. Be Your Own Critic
It can be difficult to admit your own faults, but it’s the best way to keep yourself safe. Next time you get on the road, get yourself in the mindset of a driving instructor. See yourself through their eyes and try to notice if there are any mistakes you’re consistently making. Ask yourself if you make these errors that are common in older drivers:
• Do you always remember to check your blind spot before changing lanes?
• Do you veer into neighboring lanes?
• Do you consistently drive well above or below the speed limit?
• Do you ever break suddenly without cause?
• Do you frequently bump into other cars when parking?
• Do you fail to yield when it’s not your right of way?
6. Listen to Loved Ones
No one likes to hear criticism from people they love, but when it comes to safety, it’s the most important kind of criticism. Your spouse, children and friends love you, so it’s natural that they be concerned if they notice that you just don’t drive like you used to. Remember that it’s probably hard for them to tell you, so if they do work up the nerve to express their worries, you ought to listen and heed their advice.
7. Consider Alternatives
Ever since you were 16 and behind the wheel alone for the first time, driving represented freedom and independence. That’s why it can be so hard to give it up. But, it’s important to realize that your safety and that of others is the top priority, and that there are many other options for getting around. Here are just a few good alternatives:
• Walk or Bike – If the distance you’re going isn’t too far, getting there on your feet or 2 wheels is a great option as it’s an opportunity for exercise and it’s free!
• Ride Share – Check out mobile apps like Uber and Lyft, which allow you to order a ride on your phone. You link your account to your debit card so that you don’t even have to deal with money. Plus, these services are usually a bit cheaper than taxis.
• Public Transportation – For those who have nearby access to buses and trains, public transit is the perfect solution. Most cities also offer reduced rates for seniors, so it’s affordable too.
• Senior Shuttles – Many cities and communities have shuttle services for those who can’t drive. There are even private companies that can send someone to pick you up and accompany you on errands or appointments if you need extra help.
There’s no reason to feel ashamed or upset if you’re starting to realize that driving isn’t as easy as it used to be. Most seniors have to slightly modify their driving habits as they age, so you’re not alone.
What’s important is that you monitor yourself and change your routines in order to keep yourself and others safe on the road.
About the Author: John Zaid is an experienced injury attorney in Houston, Texas. As the founding member of Zaid Law firm, John has seen his fair share of unsafe driving and is passionate about informing people of smart habits that help them to avoid serious injuries. He frequently shares his expertise on a variety of online publications. Click here to find out more.