Many of us strive to maintain our independence throughout our lives. However, aging affects all of us differently, and sometimes age-related factors may influence our ability to carry out everyday tasks. One of the tasks that we most closely associate with our independence is the ability to drive and as we grow older, the ability to drive safely becomes increasingly important. To help ensure that you can remain active and maintain your ability to drive, there are some safe driving strategies you can begin to implement now.
Driving Tips & Defensive Driving Strategies
- Schedule regular physicals. Check with your doctor regularly to see if there are any conditions or medications that may affect your driving (Segal, White and Robinson, 2018).
- Schedule regular vision and hearing tests. Vision and hearing are two senses that most affect driving capabilities—and as senses decline with age, it is recommended you check your vision every two years and your hearing every three years. You may want to get more frequent check-ups if you have pre-existing conditions or a family history relating to these senses, however (Mayo Clinic, 2017; Riddering, n.d.).
- Physical exercise daily. Exercising can improve flexibility, agility, and hand-eye coordination. You can exercise in the comfort of your own home by lifting light weights or common household items (National Institute on Aging, 2018). As you maintain a fitness routine, choose a physical activity that you enjoy and feel comfortable doing, such as gardening or walking.
- Mental exercises. Work on jigsaw or crossword puzzles, and play games that involve letters and numbers to sharpen your mental skills (National Institute on Aging, 2018). You can find games to play in your local papers or online.
- Drive during safe conditions. Time your departures for when visibility is high (e.g. on a sunny day) and there is less traffic. Whenever possible, avoid driving during adverse weather conditions such as heavy fog, snow, hail, etc.
- Do not drive under the influence. The Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limit for a person 21 years or older is 0.08%, and it is illegal to operate a vehicle if your BAC is more than or equal to 0.08%. It is also illegal to drive under the influence of any drug—whether it is prescription, over-the-counter, or illegal (ca.gov, n.d.a).
- Do routine maintenance on your vehicle. Upkeep of your car is key to remaining a safe driver. Check things such as tire pressure, cleanliness of mirrors and windshields, and possible vehicle recalls.
- Update your driving skills. Consider taking a refresher course for older drivers. Updating your driving skills might even earn you a discount on car insurance, depending on your policy (Mayo Clinic, 2017).
- Be a defensive driver. Defensive driving tips include being able to control your speed, maintaining ample space between you and other vehicles, staying alert and avoiding distractions, following proper signaling and lane-merging or –switching, and coming to complete stops.
- Consult a driving rehabilitation specialist. Driving rehabilitation specialists are trained to evaluate older drivers in: muscle strength, flexibility, range of motion, coordination and reaction time, judgment and decision-making skills, and the ability to drive with specialized, adaptive devices (com, n.d.).
- To find a specialist, please visit Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists or UCSD’s Training, Research and Education for Driving Safety.
Be Cautious of the Following Warning Signs
According to the DMV (n.d.), there are some warning signs an older adult or their family should look out for to help determine whether it may be time to limit or stop driving altogether. These warning signs include:
- Feeling uncomfortable, nervous, or fearful when driving
- Unexplained dents and scrapes on the car, fences, mailboxes, garage doors, etc.
- Frequent close calls (e.g. almost crashing)
- Getting lost
- Ignoring signs and signals
- Slowed response to unexpected situations
- Difficulty staying in the lane of traffic
- Trouble paying attention to signals, road signs, and pavement markings
- Trouble judging gaps in traffic at intersections or highway entrance/exit ramps
- Frequently getting honked at by other drivers
- Medical conditions or medications that may be affecting the driver’s ability to handle a car safely
- Frequent traffic tickets or warnings by traffic or law enforcement officers in the last two years.
To see if your safety may be at risk, complete this “Am I a Safe Driver?” self-evaluation provided by UCSD TREDS, or a Drivers 65 Plus self-assessment provided by AAA.
Discussing Driving Concerns
If you are concerned about a loved one behind the wheel and wish to talk with them regarding their driving abilities, here are some things to keep in mind (National Institute on Aging, 2018).
- Have back-up alternative transportation methods ready for suggestion if they wish to remain in control of their transportation needs.
- Avoid confrontation – Use “I” statements rather than “you” statements, which may be perceived as aggressive and accusatory.
- Focus on the driver’s skills and capabilities, rather than focusing on their age.
- Emphasize the importance of their safety and independence.
- Above all else, be supportive and encouraging. As this may be a sensitive topic for some, be understanding when they express negative emotions such as anger or sadness. Work together to find the optimal solution for all parties involved.
Additional resources regarding talking with a loved one:
- Conversations About Driving (AAA)
- Let’s Talk About Driving (CaregiverStress.com)
- We Need to Talk: Family Conversations with Older Drivers
Keiro’s Call to Action
It is not so important to be able to check off as many of these recommendations as possible, as it may be difficult to incorporate each of these defensive driving tips and strategies to your routine right away. What is important is that we begin to recognize signs of aging, how they can affect our driving—and thus lifestyle—as a whole, and begin to incorporate some these tips in order to remain healthy and independent.
However, should you find that driving is no longer a sustainable option for you or a loved one, consider alternative methods of transportation.
For more information on Alternative Transportation and going “car-lite,” visit our fact sheet.
Dmv.ca.gov. (n.d.a). California Driver Handbook – Alcohol and Drugs. Retrieved from: https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/pubs/hdbk/actions_drink
Dmv.pa.gov. (n.d.). Mature Driver Safety Tips. Retrieved from: https://www.dmv.pa.gov/Driver-Services/Mature-Drivers/Pages/Mature-Driver-Safety-Tips.aspx
Driversed.com. (n.d.). Defensive Driving Techniques. Retrieved from: https://driversed.com/driving-information/defensive-driving/defensive-driving-techniques.aspx
Mayo Clinic. (2017). Older drivers: 7 tips for driver safety. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/healthy-aging/in-depth/senior-health/art-20046397
National Institute on Aging. (2018). Older Drivers. Retrieved from: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/older-drivers#besafe
Riddering, A. (n.d.). Driving Safety for Older Adults. Retrieved from: https://www.visionaware.org/info/everyday-living/transportation/driving-safety-for-older-adults-/125
Segal, R., White, M. and Robinson, L. (2018). Age and Driving. Retrieved from: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/alzheimers-dementia-aging/how-aging-affects-driving.htm