As people get older, what type of issues should they pay attention as they get behind the wheel of a car? Most people have a stubborn confidence that they are capable of doing everything right no matter the circumstances and in the case of driving it’s usually good to have confidence as opposed to being scared. But as people grow older and their mental and physical abilities decline, it is crucial that they take responsibility for both themselves and the other drivers on the road. Lives can depend on it and on one sunny day at a California farmer’s market in 2003, some were lost because of an 86 year old driver who seemed to mistake the brake for the accelerator and killed 9 people as well as injuring several others.
So with this in mind, here are some ideas for drivers who are already considered elderly or who are nearly to that point and want to learn what they may have to keep in mind as they get older.
No matter how much people complain about old Sunday drivers, someone “driving Ms. Daisy,” or how impatient vehicles in the mirror become, it is important to go slower than the average driver. One reason for this is because some elderly drivers reflexes are not as good as they used to be and thus the slower they go, the more likely they can react to an obstacle or to another driver’s action.
Another good reason is because people’s vision declines over time and therefore they may not see an obstacle coming, have depth perception problems and have to take more time to read road signs or instruments on the dashboard, creating more of a chance that a particular elderly driver is not fully aware of everything happening on the road.
Finally, it’s important in the event of an accident. Because of the loss of bone mass as people age, it goes without saying that if a car crashes, the faster the impact, the more likely they will be to break bones upon impact. In general, older people are more vulnerable they are during a crash so that’s why going slow is a good habit.
Drive in Well Lit Areas
This goes back to what was stated about vision. Even for perfectly healthy and observant people, driving during the day and at night is very different. For any driver, it’s easy to get lost while driving at night and in a unfamiliar place. This can lead to all kinds of negative consequences, some not even related to driving ability. For the elderly who show signs of cognitive decline, it’s imperative to stay on well lit roads because the inability to see every obstacle, read road signs and to get lost.
As previously mentioned, this is not even unique to elderly drivers but is something all drivers should keep in mind. And because of problems with memory some have, it’s more likely older drivers will get lost and forget where they came from.
Don’t Drive Alone
Unless in an emergency or taking a short trip, it’s good to take an extra person along. This person can also be elderly but it’s always better to have another licensed driver in the car of young adult or middle age. This person’s role is to assist with directions and watch for signs of fatigue or confusion.
Additionally, they are there for conversation, keeping the driver’s mind stimulated (though hopefully not distracted from driving). It’s the same reason that it’s always good to have someone to talk to on a road trip because it stimulates the mind of an otherwise bored driver.
Finally, if a medical emergency happens while out on the town, having another person nearby means there is someone close by to assist, possibly even miraculously steering the car to safety should the driver have one happen while driving.
Make Sure Senses Are Functioning Normally
A problem with identifying the impact of aging is that our abilities slowly decline over time as opposed to rapidly becoming obvious. Therefore, every year a person should have their hearing, sight, and cognitive abilities tested to make sure they are still safely capable of operating a vehicle. If anything seems to be an issue then it should be corrected (such as the need for contacts, corrective lenses or a hearing aid) or the driver should consider limited driving, if any at all.
Choose the Right Car
Automatic transmission, power steering and brakes are always better than any other type of car that has other features. The less there is to think about, the better. Particularly important is having the automatic transmission so that one does need to use both feet while driving. If memory and reaction time of a person begins to decline, having the wrong type of car can prove fatal.
So there is some advice for older drivers, those who are approaching senior status or those who have loved ones who are showing signs of aging. Not everyone ages the same and those who are showing signs of having their cognitive abilities decline aren’t outright ignorant and incapable of driving. But for the safety of the driver, other drivers and pedestrians it is important to consider how the precess of aging affects driving.