Whatever their ages, Americans love to be mobile. And for many people, that means driving an automobile. In this country, three out of four adults have valid driver’s licenses, and 40 million of those drivers are age 65 or older.
On average, Americans outlive their ability to drive by 6-10 years. Nevertheless, active older adults are reluctant to give up their driving privileges—and for a good reason: Research shows that seniors who stop driving have increased mortality risk and a higher likelihood of suffering from depression.
While older motorists are not generally more reckless than others, aging may impair their abilities to react while operating a vehicle. What’s more, we become more vulnerable to sustaining severe injuries from accidents as we age. Therefore, driving can prove dangerous for many older adults.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of things seniors should consider before climbing behind the wheel. While these tips might not enable you to keep driving, they could help you drive more wisely and safely.
Beware of Deteriorating Nighttime Vision
Fading night vision can impact the ability to drive after dark, especially among older drivers. As we age, our pupils shrink and dilate less, thereby limiting the amount of light that enters our eyes. Some experts liken it to wearing sunglasses while driving at night.
Corneas and lens can become cloudy with age, causing glare and difficulty seeing objects in the road at night. Age-related issues can also affect depth perception.
Declines in vision can happen so gradually that many of us fail to recognize the changes until they become problems. Regularly scheduled eye exams can determine if poor eyesight prevents you from driving safely at night.
Avoid Stressful Driving Conditions
Busy and hazardous driving environments can prove stressful to any motorist. For that reason, older adults might try to avoid driving in wintery weather and rush hours.
Inclement weather can impact visibility and create road conditions that require quick reflexes and responses. Traveling in stormy weather involving heavy rain or high winds can be especially stressful. And when driving in snow and ice, it’s important to remember that ordinarily simple operations—such as stopping, accelerating, and turning—take longer to execute and can present added challenges. Therefore, slow down in treacherous weather, and remember to increase and decrease speeds gradually.
Another good idea is to avoid driving during morning and evening rush hours when traffic is unusually heavy. Whenever possible, schedule road trips for daytime hours between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. when traffic is lighter. Plot out your route and try to stay on familiar roads.
Prescription medications often produce side effects that can affect your ability to operate a vehicle. So it’s important to understand how your medicines will affect you before hitting the road. Potential risks include drowsiness, slowed reactions, and difficulty concentrating. Avoid risks by consulting your doctor and pharmacist about any possible issues with your medications.
Additionally, age-related health conditions, such as arthritis and hearing loss, can impact your driving ability. Arthritis, for example, can cause swollen and stiff joints and make it more physically challenging to grip and turn the steering wheel, get in and out of the car, and apply pressure to the gas and brake pedals.
Hearing problems create added concerns by affecting your ability to remain aware of your surroundings. Seek suggestions for maintaining and improving your driving capabilities by contacting a medical professional.
Considering the conditions of your vehicle—inside and out—is vital for safe driving. From inside your car, check for proper visibility, functioning safety features, and limited noise distractions. Outside, make sure that headlights, mirrors, and windshields are clean and that tires have adequate inflation. Keeping up with routine car maintenance will decrease the risk of your car breaking down.
While these considerations might seem daunting and restricting, they don’t have to be. Moreover, there are many ways to remain mobile without driving. From catching rides from family or friends to utilizing ridesharing services such as Uber or Lyft, older adults have lots of options for getting around.