The feeling of freedom you get while driving is one you never grow tired of. That feeling keeps people behind the wheel, even when the effects of aging make it more difficult for them to drive safely.
As you age, your ability to react lessens. Taking medications for conditions, such as high blood pressure or cardiac problems, can add to your inability to react quickly. You may experience a feeling of being lost or confused when you find yourself in an unfamiliar environment. Sometimes you may also be overwhelmed by all of the traffic signals, road signs, pedestrians and vehicles that you have to keep track of at intersections. Distances become harder to judge, and you have difficulty in determining whether you have enough room to turn or change lanes. Likewise, knowing when to merge with traffic from the on-ramp of a highway may become difficult to judge. These are all the result of the natural aging process, but you need to take extra precautions to be sure they don’t interfere with your ability to handle your vehicle.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has developed the following guidelines to help older Americans drive more safely:
- Plan your route. Drive where you are familiar with the road conditions and traffic patterns.
- Drive during the day and avoid rush hours. Find alternative routes with less traffic.
- Keep a safe distance between you and the car ahead. Find a marker ahead of you, such as a tree, sign or lamppost. When the car ahead of you passes this marker, count “1001, 1002, 1003, 1004.” Try to leave enough space so that you reach 1004 before your car gets to the marker.
- When approaching intersections, remind yourself to look to roadsides, as well as directly ahead.
- Try to make left turns at intersections where green arrow signals provide protected turns. Sometimes you can completely avoid left turns by making a right turn at the next intersection. Two more right turns should put you on the street you need.
- Scan far down the road continuously so that you can anticipate future problems and plan your actions. A passenger can serve as a “second pair of eyes.” Be careful not to get distracted in conversation.
Many seniors are still very capable of driving, which is why a decision about a person’s ability to drive should never be based solely on age. However, changes in reflexes can put at an older driver at increased risk. If you recognize and accept these changes, you can adjust your driving habits to allow many more years of safe driving.