According to the Federal Highway Administration, there are over 40 million elderly licensed drivers. AAA says that number is expected to rise to 70 million by 2030, making 85 to 90% of seniors 65 and older licensed to drive.
Americans are living longer, healthier lives; 65 is the new 45. Nonetheless, increased age can affect ability to drive. Stiff joints, slower reflexes, hearing and vision impairment, and even prescription medications can all contribute to a less than optimal driving situation. Older drivers should follow these five tips to stay safe on the road.
Get your eyes and ears checked annually
Impaired vision and hearing are two of the most common issues among older drivers. Worsened vision can cause you to change lanes at unsafe times and impact your depth perception, making fender-benders more likely. Impaired hearing can cause you to miss the approach of emergency vehicles and other drivers potentially honking at you.
An annual checkup with your optometrist and audiologist or your primary care physician can ensure your eyes and ears are in good shape for driving. It is important to know that Original Medicare generally does not cover routine vision and hearing exams. Therefore, you may want to consider enrolling in a standalone dental, vision, and hearing plan so you’ll have coverage for these exams.
Drive when and where you’re comfortable
If you’re aware of your limitations when driving, take care to drive only in circumstances where you feel comfortable. For example, if your vision is only impaired at nighttime, plan all your driving trips during daylight hours. If you aren’t comfortable driving on highways anymore, map out your routes using only non-highway roads.
Another option you may want to consider is to ask a friend or family member to give you a lift if driving conditions don’t make you feel safe. There are also several ride-share companies you could look to for getting around town.
Purchase an advanced car or upgrade your existing car’s features
Today you’d be hard-pressed to find a new car that doesn’t have all the safety bells and whistles. Many cars have blind-spot monitors, lane assist, automatic emergency braking, and a 360-degree backup camera. All of these features can help you stay safe on the road.
Buying a new car with these features may not be in the cards for you, and that’s okay. You can look into upgrading your current car with some of these features. For example, you may be able to swap out your side mirrors to get a better view of your blind spots. There is also equipment you can purchase to make operating the pedals and steering wheel easier. Even changing out your headlights and keeping your windows clean can do more than you think.
Check with your doctor about prescription drug side effects
Most seniors take more than one prescription drug, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. When taken together, certain medications can have adverse reactions that may impact your ability to drive safely. Depending on the medicines you take, side effects could include drowsiness, tremors, confusion, blurred vision, and headaches.
If you take more than one prescription drug, or even just one that can cause these types of side effects, talk to your doctor about the safest times to take your medications so you might not experience them while you’re on the road.
Pay attention to the warning signs
You, as the driver, and your family members should pay attention to any warning signs that might suggest you should be driving less. Warning signs include damage to your car, an increase in traffic violations, road rage, tailgating, and swerving. If you or your family notice these signs, perhaps it’s time to consider hanging up the keys.
Until you can no longer operate a vehicle safely, continue to live independently and enjoy the open road. You may never reach a time where you feel unsafe driving. But if you do, rely on these five tips to keep you safe.