This site has been created to educate drivers age 65 and older how to continue to drive safely, despite the barriers that aging may introduce. As you age, your body changes, and some things may make driving more difficult — such as hearing, seeing, and moving. This booklet offers suggestions that will help compensate for these age-related difficulties. Additionally, you will be supplied with information on how to keep and drive a safe car, whether that is taking your car in for a routine service, adding modifications for your individual needs, or going through a comprehensive driving evaluation. The goal is to help you continue to drive safely for as long as possible.
As an older driver, you may have noticed your driving skills aren’t what they were when you proudly received your first driver’s license. And there’s nothing wrong with that. This is an opportunity to learn about ways on how to drive safer, longer. So your life happily rolls along.
A good place to start is to visit your doctor and follow recommendations. Be aware of the side effects of your medications. Get a thorough eye exam. And stay active to maintain your strength and agility.
Vision naturally declines over time. It is recommended that you visit your doctor for an eye exam at least once a year, and to always wear your glasses or contacts as your doctor has prescribed. There are three common problems that contribute to poor and declining vision; glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration.
Glaucoma affects peripheral vision which is vital while driving to see all of your surroundings and blind spots. Additionally, glaucoma can cause hazy or blurry vision. Cataracts can occur anywhere in your lens and make things appear cloudy. If left untreated, cataracts will continue to progress and grow, making your ability to see worse.
Macular degeneration occurs as you age, and affects the sharpness of your central vision, or your ability to see directly ahead. Central vision is what you primarily use while driving, because it helps you to judge distances, see small details, and read road signs.
There are set legal vision requirements for driving. The Utah Department of Public Safety and Driver’s License Division requires at least 20/40 vision and peripheral vision of 120 degrees in at least one eye. These requirements may be met either with or without glasses in order to maintain a valid driver’s license. This vision test should be passed once every five years.
CarFit is a nationwide educational program sponsored by AAA, AARP, and the American Occupational Therapy Association. It enhances the safety of older drivers by making sure vehicles are adjusted to ‘fit’ you at events or teaches you how to adjust the ‘fit’ of your vehicle on your own. Carfit keeps you and others safe. You can find event times and locations on their website.
Carfit is all about the safest car for you. It’s important to always test drive a new car thoroughly to make sure that it’s comfortable for you. A thorough test drive should include time on the highway and time on city streets. There are five things you can do to ensure a comfortable and safe car:
- Adjust or add mirrors for improved visibility.
- Make sure the car is easy to get in and out of, and that reaching the seat belt buckle is easy. Adjust the seat or add a seat belt extender if needed.
- Make sure the steering wheel is adjustable and that you are able to see at least three inches above it.
- Get comfortable with the use of gas, brakes, and navigation system. Can you reach the gas and brake pedals, or do you need extenders?
- Make sure your car has safety features such as additional airbags, alert systems, and good crash reviews.
- For more information, visit their website at https://www.car-fit.org/
Maintaining “brain fitness” can help you improve your driving. Brain fitness sharpens your processing speed, decision making, and reaction time through cognitive training. Training may include computer-based exercises created specifically for sharpening the mind, Sudokus, and crossword puzzles.
It is extremely important to always make safe choices while driving. Always wear your seatbelt and make sure that all of your passengers do as well. Do not drive distracted. Put your phone on silent and away where it will not bother you. Do not fidget with the radio controls too much, and avoid eating or applying makeup when you are driving.
Never, ever drive under the influence. This not only includes alcohol and recreational drugs, but also over-the-counter or prescription medications that can cause dangerous side effects. Keep in mind that alcohol may cause negative side effects when combined with medications. It is important to be educated about the effects of your medications and what they do not mix well with.
Do not drive drowsy, even if you think you can make it. Driving drowsy has the same effect as driving intoxicated. And remember, older adults need just as much sleep as young people. If you are struggling with your sleep, talk with your doctor.
If you are beginning to notice the effects of aging, do not ignore the warning signs. Signs can include vision and hearing loss, loss of strength, flexibility, agility, overall fitness, cognitive depreciations such as loss of memory, poor judgement and decreased reaction time. It is also important to be aware of the possible side effects and interactions of your medications, and to avoid driving if they cause drowsiness or other potentially dangerous effects.
Before the time comes to discontinue driving, make a driving retirement plan with your family so that you know what to do when the time comes. As you begin the transition from driver to passenger, try to limit your driving and reduce your need to drive. Use alternative transportation such as carpooling or public transit. Invite family members and friends to visit you at your home, rather than you traveling to them.
You can also consider medication and delivery services.
The physiology of dementia is unpredictable and affects different regions of the brain that are supposed to work together. This oftentimes results in the impairment of one or more of the functions that are needed to drive. Because of the unpredictability of Alzheimer’s and dementia, it is smart to begin discussing your plan for driving retirement in the early stages. This helps to smooth the transition from driver to passenger, and it also keeps you involved.
Talk to your doctor about having a Comprehensive Driving Evaluation while you are still in the early stages and have your driving re-evaluated as is recommended by a professional. Gradually modify your driving habits to ease into the role of passenger. Ways to modify your driving include, but are not limited to: driving shorter distances, staying on familiar roads, avoiding difficult interchanges, heavy traffic, bad weather, or driving at night.
Just because it may be time for you to stop driving, doesn’t mean you can no longer be independent.
There are various forms of alternative transportation that you can access. Your family and friends are a great resource to find a ride. Pick someone you are comfortable with, and you know would be willing to drive you places. Caregivers may also be an option for alternative transportation. Look into riding public transit, such as the city bus or train. Some public transit companies may even offer discounts for seniors. Uber and Lyft-type agencies are also an option. To get a ride with them, you call or message for a driver to take you where you need to go. It is similar to taxi services, but without having to hail them off the street. If you would be more comfortable with something more individualized and professional, you could always go through a private transportation system. These agencies may have accommodations for your personal needs and possible disabilities.
When beginning the discussion about driving retirement with a loved one, it is important to create a comfortable, caring conversation. Thoughtfully pick who should be the one to initiate the conversation. Choose this person based on personality, experience, and their relationship with the loved one in question. Generally, spouses would prefer to hear from their spouses, but doctors’ opinions are well-valued outside of the family. Adult children have a greater influence on parents that are 70 or older, as compared with those in their 50s and 60s. Other options for conversation starters might be a close friend, or other family member, such as an in-law or sibling.
Consider when it would be the best time to talk. Start by having small conversations before unsafe driving becomes an issue. By having short, frequent conversations rather than one big one after driving has become a problem, you can avoid overwhelming your loved one with everything at once. Additionally, you should make sure that the conversation takes place in a comfortable, and safe environment. Start talking with your loved one when you begin to notice warning signs, such as effects and amount of medications, cognitive status, or change in vehicle ownership.
Think about what you want the conversation to accomplish. Is your goal to get them to the point where they accept help from family and friends? Or do you plan to help them set up a plan for alternative transportation? Encourage them to talk to their doctor about completing a Comprehensive Driving Evaluation. A Comprehensive Driving Evaluation will give them an objective opinion from a professional about their driving.
- Get the facts and look for warning signs.
- Observe the driver over time.
- Discuss your concerns with a doctor.
- Investigate alternatives.
- Be supportive.