Driving is very important for our independence due to the mobility and opportunities it affords us. However, our mental and physical abilities change as we age with changes in our vision, hearing, reaction times, and physical health all affecting how safely we drive. These changes happen very slowly which can make it difficult to notice they are happening. It is, therefore, important to know what to look for and how to continue driving safely.
Good vision is critical to safe driving. As we age, several changes can happen to our vision which can make it difficult to drive safely or to drive at all. These changes can, for example, narrow our field of view, reduce our ability to focus on objects, and increase the amount of light we need to see, especially in less-than-perfect conditions.
Some of the symptoms that can point to declining visions include:
- Problems reading street signs or recognizing someone across the street
- Experiencing discomfort from the glare of headlights
- Trouble seeing and discerning different lane lines and markings like curbs and pavement markings
Some of the things you can do if you have these issues include wearing your prescription glasses, keeping your windshield clean, getting your eyes checked for any issues, sitting in such a way that you see at least 10 feet in front of the car, and not wearing tinted lenses or sunglasses at night.
It is also a good idea to consider switching your insurance as you get older. As your vision changes, there is an increased likelihood of getting into accidents which can lead to higher premiums. Getting the right car insurance for seniors means you can keep your premiums low while getting adequate coverage. Try finding car insurance for seniors that can adjust to your specific needs so you can pay for only what you need.
As with vision, hearing is another critical part of driving safely. Being aware of your surroundings at all times when driving is critical, and good hearing and vision allow you to do this. You not only need to hear what is going around you but also communication coming from another driver. For example, another driver might be honking for you to avoid an accident, and you might not be able to avoid it if you do not respond to the warning in time.
Some symptoms of age-related hearing loss include:
- Difficulty hearing certain sounds in noisy environments
- Voices sounding slurred or mumbled
- Difficulty hearing deeper voices than softer or higher ones
- Difficulty distinguishing one high-pitched noise from another
Seniors should get checked for hearing loss as they get older to keep driving safely. They should also minimize noise in their cars so they can hear other noises and sounds more easily.
Motor Skills and Physical Fitness
Diminishing flexibility, strength, and coordination all affect our ability to drive safely. Diminishing motor skills can increase reaction times which can affect our ability to avoid an accident or dangerous situation.
Physical fitness can impact our ability to look over our shoulders which is critical when making turns and navigating intersections. Also, diminishing physical fitness can make moving the foot from the gas to the brake pedal more difficult or slower and make walking and going up and down a flight of stairs difficult. Any of these symptoms plus pain in the legs, feet, and hands can make driving difficult and even dangerous.
Switching to a car with automatic transmission, power brakes, and power steering can help, as can seeing a specialist to prescribe equipment that makes it safer to drive. It is also important to see a physician who will help with any pain or fitness issues that make it harder to drive.
It is best to stop driving if you have too much pain doing it, have the symptoms above, or do not feel strong enough to complete short trips.
Driving requires a lot of attention because a lot is going on and you need to concentrate on all of it at any one time. Reaction times also dictate how quickly we can react to situations before we realize what is going on.
A clear sign that your attention and reaction times are being affected is feeling overwhelmed by the different signs on the road that you must pay attention to. You might also find gaps between cars and the edge of the road difficult to gauge.
If you experience dizziness or forgetfulness, take medications that make you drowsy, or are not confident that you can complete a trip, it is best to avoid driving.
Planning your route, using routes that have less traffic, driving during the day, and keeping safe distances between cars can help.
Aging affects different aspects of our lives and can make things that seem easy more challenging. Driving requires so much of us that it is affected a lot as we age. It is important to watch for changes to know when to see a doctor and when to decide if we need to get off the road and let someone else drive us.