Approximately 85 percent of drivers over the age of 65, also known as senior drivers, possess valid driver’s licenses. While research shows maintaining the ability to drive can help seniors live independently and decrease feelings of isolation or depression, many safety experts warn that driving over the age of 65 can present unique challenges.
Physical challenges associated with senior driving include a driver’s inability to turn their head to look for oncoming traffic while merging lanes or to grip a steering wheel, visual perception problems, hearing issues, and muscle control problems that hinder their ability to quickly brake the vehicle. Advanced age can also affect a driver’s strength and flexibility. Senior drivers should schedule routine vision tests to monitor for glaucoma, cataracts, and other common geriatric vision problems.
Adjusting to Limitations
Adjustments can be made to overcome many of the physical limitations associated with advanced age. Steering wheel covers can help with grip and turning problems, and occupational therapists can provide other assistive driving devices when necessary. Changes to vehicles, such as the installation of larger, easy to read dials, can be made to improve driving safety. For many senior drivers, adjusting the time when they drive is necessary. Certain individuals may no longer be able to safely drive in the dark and will restrict their driving to daylight hours.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, even mild cognitive decline can increase accident risk in senior drivers. Researchers concluded that in older drivers without dementia, lower levels of cognitive function and depression were associated with higher motor vehicle accident risks. While distracted driving is a serious safety risk for drivers of all ages, senior drivers may struggle with adjusting radio dials or programming GPS systems, which remove the driver’s attention from the road. When weather causes difficult road conditions or poor visibility, senior drivers may find delaying their trip to be the safest option until the driving situation improves.
Many senior drivers take the proactive step of updating their driving skills by enrolling in a driver refresher course. Several car insurance companies will provide a discount on insurance premiums for senior drivers who successfully complete a refresher skills course.
Avoid Medications That Cause Drowsiness
Senior drivers taking prescription medicine should be aware of side effects that inhibit the ability to drive. Some pain or sleep medications can cause drowsiness, dizziness, or other unforeseen effects that make it unsafe to drive. Always consult with your doctor or pharmacist before operating a motor vehicle while taking prescription medicine. Drivers of any age should avoid drinking alcohol or using drugs, including medically prescribed marijuana.
One of the most difficult decisions for a senior driver is when to stop driving entirely. If you believe your ability to drive safely has been compromised, or another person has expressed this concern to you, it may be time to stop driving.
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