As we age, our ability to drive safely changes. Seniors face slower reaction times, increased confusion about directions, complications due to medications, and other potential problems when behind the wheel.
Fortunately, turning 65 doesn’t mean one has to hand in their driver’s license. Drivers of any age can increase their safety by incorporating several simple strategies, from basic auto maintenance to learning how to be prepared in case of a car accident and more.
Here’s how seniors can stay safe when driving.
Stay Up-to-Date with Hearing and Vision Health
Both hearing and vision typically decline with age. Any type of impairment in those areas can affect your ability to react on the road, including your ability to drive at night or notice emergency vehicles.
Follow all doctor recommendations for vision and hearing tests. Even if you don’t feel any changes in your ability to see or hear, always follow through with regular checkups. Hearing and vision issues can develop subtly, but an exam can help spot minor problems before they become major issues.
Avoid Dangerous Driving Conditions
Many seniors don’t give up driving entirely but stay safe by avoiding driving in certain conditions, such as bad weather or at night. The safest option is to only drive during the daytime when the weather is bright and clear.
Additionally, limit driving to familiar roads and locations. For example, many senior drivers prefer sticking to local streets instead of hopping on the highway. When you drive within your comfort zone, you’ll feel more confident, which means you’re less likely to make an error due to nervousness.
Fit Your Vehicle
Your vehicle’s “fit” refers to your position when driving. Can you see all the mirrors, reach the pedals, and otherwise have access to everything necessary for safe operation? If you haven’t adjusted your vehicle’s fit in a while, it might be time. As we age, our bodies can change shape, sometimes resulting in loss of height, change in posture, or similar issues. Make sure to wear comfortable, well-fitting clothing as well. Excess fabric may get stuck and impair drivers.
Adjust the seat for proper legroom. Your foot should reach both the gas and brake pedals without straining. You should be able to shift your foot from one pedal to the other without any discomfort.
Your knees should have a slight bend, so they don’t lock when you drive, which can result in reduced circulation that can leave you feeling lightheaded. Also, the seat should tilt back enough to fully support your bottom and thighs. An angle between 100 and 110 degrees is enough to support your upper body and maintain a healthy posture.
After adjusting your seat, you’re ready to adjust your mirrors. Set the rear view mirror so that you don’t have to turn your head to see the direct middle of your back windshield.
Move the driver’s side mirror until you have a full view of the road behind you. A small sliver of your car should remain visible as a reference point. The side mirror should overlap with the viewing angle of the rearview mirror, with a sliver of your car also visible.
Be Mindful of Medications
You already know not to drive when under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, or illegal drugs. However, make sure you apply those same considerations to prescription medications.
Four out of every five seniors take at least one prescription medication daily. As we get older, side effects due to medications often become more pronounced. Work with your doctor to determine what possible side effects could potentially impair your driving.
Develop an Accident Plan
Even when following every rule of the road, drivers of any age can potentially wind up in an accident. The aftermath of a collision is often a whirlwind of confusion. Learning how to be prepared in case of a car accident can help you keep a clear head and limit potential problems going forward.
In the immediate aftermath of an accident, the first thing you want to do is move yourself, and your car, to a safe location, typically somewhere off to the side of the road. Call emergency services and try to help the injured as best you can.
Never admit fault and never accuse others. When the police arrive, cooperate fully but don’t describe the accident at the scene. Instead, politely say you’ll fill out an accident report later after consulting with an attorney.
An accident attorney is an invaluable aid when navigating the aftermath of a collision, even if you weren’t at fault. They can deal with any relevant insurance companies and otherwise help you receive any compensation you’re entitled to.
While seniors do face the possibility of certain difficulties on the road, they also possess experience and maturity, which can help them stay safe when behind the wheel. Respect your personal limitations, avoid dangerous conditions, and develop emergency plans, such as learning how to be prepared in case of a car accident.
Driving represents freedom and independence. Seniors, along with drivers of any age, can follow the tips above to enjoy safe driving for many years to come.