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Safe driving for seniors

November 1, 2015 Senior Health

Although we can get around by bike, bus, train, or sidewalk, most Americans rely on their car when it comes to getting from one place to another. Driving is a key to independence. A person's ability to drive isn't based on age alone. Age or disease-related changes in vision, physical fitness, problem-solving abilities, and reflexes, however, may be reasons to reevaluate your abilities behind the wheel.

Vision and hearing

Among the most common age-related changes that can affect your driving is vision. As people age, they may experience a reduction in their field of vision. Additionally, it becomes more difficult for eyes to adjust and focus on different objects. This problem is intensified at night, particularly when trying to recover from the glare of headlights. Vision problems from eye diseases such as cataracts, macular degeneration or glaucoma also can affect your driving ability.

Another common age-related change that can affect your driving is your hearing. Good hearing allows drivers to hear sirens and horns, as well as have the ability to know what is happening around them. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about your hearing or vision.

Physical fitness

As you age, it may become more difficult to control a car because of a decrease in muscle strength, coordination, and flexibility. Arthritis or physical pain also can limit driving abilities, such as being able to fully turn your head to look for traffic or operate a car with a manual transmission.

If you have any symptoms such as limited range of motion in your neck or arms, pain in the lower half of your body, or decreased physical fitness, get a physical exam and advice from your health care provider.

Decreased reaction time and attention

Driving requires dividing your attention among many activities and being able to react quickly. Reaction time decreases with age. Although it may not be obvious in other activities, a delay in response time can be quite noticeable during unexpected driving situations. Illness and even certain medications can also decrease attention, concentration, and reaction time. Review your medications with your doctor and ask whether any changes should be made, or whether there are certain medications you should not take while driving.

On the road

Here are some precautions to take once you're behind the wheel:

  • Follow the laws of the road – Stay in your lane and try to drive at the speed of traffic.
  • Buckle up – Wearing your seat belt can protect you in a crash.
  • Concentrate on your driving and avoid distractions.
  • Watch for other cars – Glance at your mirrors often and always look behind you when reversing or changing lanes.
  • Turn with caution – Always use your turn signal and don't rush. Make turns only when you have a clear view of oncoming traffic and are sure you can turn safely.
  • Know your limits – Try to avoid driving situations that make you uncomfortable. For example, if night driving becomes difficult, don't drive at night. Or, if you do not like driving fast, driving in a lot of traffic, or driving in bad weather, try to plan ahead to avoid these situations.

About the Driver Rehab Program

Led by a licensed occupational therapist and a Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist with over 20 years in the field, Main Line Health’s Driver Rehab Program takes a multi-pronged approach, from assessment to training to driver certification and ongoing support.

Learn more about Main Line Health’s Driver Rehab Program