2007-04-06 / Community

Senior Citizen Driving Tips

It is estimated that by the year 2020 one in five drivers will be 65 years or older. Many experts agree that knowing the warning signs of driving impairments, adjusting to physical and mental changes, and developing transportation alternatives are critical to the safety of older drivers, their passengers and others on the road.

"With old age comes changes that can greatly impact the ability to drive," notes Ray Palermo, director of public relations for Response Insurance, a national car insurer. "Unfortunately it's borne out by the fact that older drivers have higher rates of fatal crashes than any other age group except teenagers." Response Insurance offers several tips for older drivers to consider.

Vision : Drivers should be aware of their ability to see clearly, particularly at night, as well as their depth perception, peripheral vision and other factors which impact safe driving. To avoid oncoming headlights, focus your eyes to the right side of the lane and speak to your doctor about yellow, night-driving glasses. Have wide angle rear and side view mirrors installed to increase your view and reduce blind spots.

Hearing : Hearing should be checked regularly. If a hearing aid is needed, be sure to ask about its effect on separating out background noise.

Motor Skills : Advancing age is often accompanied by a reduction in strength, which can impact the ability to brake or steer in an emergency. Stiffness in joints or arthritis can also limit a driver's ability to turn his or her head sufficiently or to steer properly. Regular exercise will enhance flexibility, strength and stamina.

Reaction Time : Often a person's reaction time slows with age, which increases the possibility of accidents. Keep a longer distance between you and the car ahead to compensate for slowing reflexes.

Medications : The effect of all medications taken should be addressed by a doctor.

Acuity : Aging often results in a decrease in the ability to multi-task. Limit the use of the radio. Have passengers handle directions and map navigation.

"One of the most important things is recognizing when it's time to give up driving altogether," adds Palermo. "It's often a painful and difficult decision, but absolutely necessary if you are putting yourself or others at risk."

He recommends that older drivers speak openly with family, friends and their doctor, and prepare for the possibility by researching the availability and cost of taxis, public transportation and any government or non-profit transportation alternatives before it is needed.

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