More and more older drivers are on the roads these days. It’s important to know that getting older doesn’t automatically turn people into bad drivers. Many of us continue to be good, safe drivers as we age. But there are changes that can affect driving skills as we age.
We experience changes in our bodies. Over time your joints may get stiff and your muscles weaken. It can be harder to move your head to look back, quickly turn the steering wheel, or safely hit the brakes.
Your eyesight and hearing may change, too. As you get older, you need more light to see things. Also, glare from the sun, oncoming headlights, or other street lights may trouble you more than before. The area you can see around you (called peripheral vision) may become narrower. The vision problems from eye diseases such as cataracts, macular degeneration, or glaucoma can also affect your driving ability.
You may also find that your reflexes are getting slower. Or, your attention span may shorten. Maybe it’s harder for you to do two things at once. These are all normal changes, but they can affect your driving skills.
Some older people have conditions like Alzheimer’s disease (AD) that change their thinking and behavior. People with AD may forget familiar routes or even how to drive safely. They become more likely to make driving mistakes, and they have more “close calls” than other drivers. However, people in the early stages of AD may be able to keep driving for a while. Caregivers should watch their driving over time. As the disease worsens, it will affect driving ability. Doctors can help you decide whether it’s safe for the person with AD to keep driving.
Other Health Changes: While health problems can affect driving at any age, some occur more often as we get older. For example, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, and diabetes may make it harder to drive. People who are depressed may become distracted while driving. The effects of a stroke or even lack of sleep can also cause driving problems. Devices such as an automatic defibrillator or pacemaker might cause an irregular heartbeat or dizziness, which can make driving dangerous.
Smart Driving Tips
Planning before you leave:
- Add extra time for travel if driving conditions are bad
- Don’t drive when you are stressed or tired
While you are driving:
- Always wear your seat belt
- Stay off the cell phone
- Avoid distractions such as listening to the radio or having a conversation
- Leave a big space, at least two car lengths, between your car and the one in front of you. If you are driving at higher speeds or if the weather is bad, leave even more space between you and the next car
- Make sure there is enough space behind you. (Hint: if someone follows you too closely, slow down so that the person will pass you)
- Keep your headlights on at all times
- Drive a car with features that make driving easier, such as power steering, power breaks, automatic transmission, and large mirrors
- Drive a car with air bags
- Check your windshield wiper blades often and replace them when needed
- Keep your headlights clean and aligned