Driving is an ultra- sensitive subject for older adults. As we age we may encounter barriers to driving safely. Unfortunately the first conversation about driving safety usually revolves around giving up your driver’s license. This move barely seems fair or even logical given the new technologies available to the public and the assistance available from groups like AARP, AAA and a few others. Think long and hard before having a conversation about giving up a driver’s license. Older adults tend to lose extremely valuable connections to their community in addition to their independence once their license is relinquished. Seniors and their families can take an evaluative approach which will increase safety and maintain independence as well as a sense of self-importance.
First let’s look at some common factors that affect your ability to drive: 1. Muscle strength, flexibility, and range of motion. 2. Coordination and reaction time. 3. Judgment and decision-making skills. 4. Ability to drive with special devices that adapt your vehicle to your needs.
Next let’s take a few safety tips into consideration:
1. Wear your Seatbelt. Get into the habit of buckling up before starting your ignition. If you have problems with using the seatbelt due to arthritis there are adaptation devices available to help you. http://www.arthritissupplies.com/buckle-bopper.html 2. Turn your cell phone to “airplane mode” while driving. Everyone worries about talking or texting while driving being a distraction but even the sounds or vibrations of incoming messages can be distracting. 3. Drive only when you are alert, not when you are stressed or tired. 4. Limit the use of your radio, or even talking with passengers. 5. Do not eat or drink fluids or smoke while driving. The mere seconds that you take your eyes off the road does decrease your response time to danger significantly. 6. No drinking alcohol prior to driving. As we age our ability to digest alcohol changes. In addition, many medications can increase the effects of alcohol on your system. 7. Do not drive while taking any pain medications or while starting a new medication. Many medications can have distressing side effects. Take it slow when introducing a new medication to your regimen and watch for side effects which may reduce your ability to think, cause distracting side effects (i.e., excessive thirst), or slowed response times. Pain medications cause all three of these side effects. 8. Make sure there is always enough space between your car and the cars in front of you. Also, maintain a safe distance from traffic behind you. 9. Drive during daylight hours. The glare of headlights can cause visual disturbances and our vision at night changes. 10. Find safer routes. Highways that have ramps, making left turns, difficult intersections and rush hour traffic can be dangerous for any driver. 11. Let the bad weather clear before you get on the road. Rain, snow, fog and other hazardous weather conditions can be especially dangerous for older drivers. 1. Try using the AAA CarFit program (sponsored by the AAA, AARP Driver Safety, and AOTA (American Occupational Therapy Association). At a CarFit educational event, health care professionals and experts who help older drivers will work with you to make sure your car is properly adjusted for your safety. A CarFit exam takes about 20 minutes of your time. 2. There are six new technologies which have been studied and proven to reduce accidents. These technologies are worthwhile for you to consider and see if they could work in your favor. a. Navigation Assistance is probably the most common form of driving technology that eases the stress of driving. Cars equipped with GPS navigation give directions, turn by turn and even warn you of upcoming traffic or hazards. Find a navigation system that is easy to use, many systems are “intuitive” which means that they work in a way that is generally expected. b. Parking Assist with rear-view display uses back-up cameras installed in the rear bumper and displayed on the dashboard which allow drivers to clearly see what’s behind them as they back up which makes parking easier. c. Self-Parking Systems is a technology that takes over steering while the car parallel parks itself. d. Obstacle-Detection Warning System will notify you if you’re about to hit something. e. Forward Collision Warning Systems can warn you if there is danger of an accident and even apply the brakes for you. f. Automatic Crash Notification is a fairly old communication technology. If there is an accident the car sends a call to 911 on your behalf.
If, after looking at all these options your safety is still in danger, then there are other ways to stay active and independent. Make a promise to yourself that you will still do the things that you’ve always done. Think of the money you will make from selling your car (DO NOT GIVE IT AWAY TO YOUR GRANDCHILD), not buying gas, not paying for repairs and not insuring it!! This money can now be used to hire cabs or use public transportation. There is even a way you can program your Smartphone to summons a car when you need it and where you need it at a cheaper rate than taxi fares. If you really feel the need to give away your car to your grandchild for heaven’s sake at least make a trade; smartphone set up and user knowledge for a set of wheels (make sure they fulfill their end of the bargain before you fulfill yours-“life lesson #23”). Look into the Uber Application. Remember, adapt, improvise and overcome!