To drive or not to drive? That may be the question, but the answer will depend largely on whom you ask. Posed to an 80-year-old, the answer will surely be a resounding “yes!!” If you ask their kids you may well get a different response.
Let’s face it –driving a car means independence for seniors. Just like getting a driver’s license is an important milestone for teens, the decision to give up that license is a big deal for seniors. Quite possibly, the only decision more important for older adults is whether to give up their house and move to senior living.
If you’ve ever driven around Texas in the winter, you’ll notice an increase in senior drivers. Snowbirds heading south for several months will surely want their own transportation once they get there. And that’s OK, generally speaking. But each case is unique and when seniors get to a certain age, they need to ask themselves the question, “Is it still safe for me to drive?” And if they don’t ask it, their kids should.
Many older adults tend to rationalize the possible danger they face – and present — when it comes to safe driving. They figure they’ve been on the road for 50+ years, so their driving skills should be stellar by now. After all, they’ve had decades of experience!
But what senior drivers often forget – or deny – is that their reflexes and vision change as they age. Consider this. Arthritis, strokes, diabetes, MS and other conditions can affect coordination, slow the reflexes and decrease strength. All of these in turn affect how well you maintain control of your car. And don’t forget cataracts, glaucoma or other vision issues that determine how well you see the world around you.
Everyone is different and there’s no predetermined age when all seniors should give up their car. But it’s a good idea to be proactive. If you’re a senior, there are a few things you can do to evaluate your own driving abilities as well as to improve them – especially if you start early enough.
A good place to start is with annual physicals that check for vision, hearing and general health. Take a look at the medications you may be taking. Do any have side-effects that would make driving dangerous? Do any specifically warn against operating a vehicle? If so, do not drive while taking them!
Be sure to follow the rules of the road. Keep to the speed limit — and that means not only avoiding speeding, but also keeping up with traffic. Driving too slow can be just as dangerous as driving too fast.
Both AAA and AARP have tools to help senior drivers. If you have a computer, check out AAA’s website devoted to the topic: seniordriving.AAA.com. If not, call AAA and ask for the Drivers 65 Plus brochure. Fifteen questions will help you assess your road performance and offer ideas for improvement.
If any of those questions raised concerns or you have some unease about driving, you might want to consider taking a driving refresher course. AAA has a new program called Roadwise Driver. It was designed to keep seniors on the road – and driving safely. You can take a class with other seniors or online in the privacy of your own home.
The AARP Smart Driver Course has provided driving tips to over 15 million drivers over age 50 since it began. It covers everything from current driving laws to operating a vehicle in adverse weather or traffic conditions. You’ll also find out ways you can make adjustments for age-related conditions such as hearing and vision deficiencies. At $15 for members and $20 for nonmembers (and just a few dollars more for the online option) it’s a steal. And the safe driving tips are invaluable.
Local driving schools may offer refresher courses for seniors as well. And if you’re still reluctant – or think you don’t need it – here’s another incentive to consider. Many insurance companies offer a discount to seniors who complete a safe driving class. How’s that for a win-win?
Thinking now about your current driving abilities and future behind the wheel has several benefits. Really it does! The best-case scenario is that you’ll give it some thought, decide you’re good to go and keep on driving – with an increased awareness of your skills and limitations. The next best? You’ll decide to take a class, learn new techniques and improve your road performance.
Now back to that Texas road congestion. I bet you’ve noticed some pretty bad drivers in the mix. It’s pretty easy to recognize problems with someone else’s driving. So ask yourself how you measure up. Then ask your friends and family. Take the online quiz and see how you do. Worst-case scenario? You’ll decide that maybe it’s time to leave the driving to someone else.