When you first got your driver’s licence, you probably remember exactly the way you felt. You were likely pretty excited about the freedom that comes along with being able to drive yourself anywhere you wanted to go. We never really lose that feeling when it comes to driving. Having a license and access to a car definitely makes life easier for many people, especially those who don’t live in a large city. This is probably why so many seniors are concerned about safety behind the wheel as they get older and hope to keep driving for as long as possible.
Keeping Seniors Safe Behind the Wheel
As we age, our driving abilities naturally change. As you get older, you have likely experienced a change in the way you drive, compared to how you drove when you first got your license. Chances are, you’re a whole lot more cautious as an adult than you were as a teenager! For seniors, this likely means adjusting your habits again to suit your current abilities. Here are a few ways to make sure you stay safe on the road as you get older.
Get your vision and hearing checked
This is perhaps the most important thing you can do to keep yourself and other drivers safe on the road. As we get older, it’s common to experience a change in eyesight. Stay on top of your regular eye exams so your doctor can ensure you have the right prescription to correct any vision changes and monitor your overall eye health.
Regular hearing checks are just as important. When you’re on the road, you need to be able to hear clearly. (For example, approaching sirens, or horns honking to alert you to something, etc.) If you find that background noise in the car makes it difficult to hear the traffic around you, turn off your music in the car so you can focus on what’s going on around you.
Get enough sleep
Many people don’t realize that being overly tired is a significant impairment when it comes to driving. When you’re tired, your brain doesn’t function at the speed it normally does, which means your reaction time can be slowed down quite a bit. When you’re behind the wheel, even just being a fraction of a second slower to react can result in an accident. Listen to your body before you get behind the wheel. If you haven’t had enough sleep, or just feel tired, it’s best to stay off the road until you feel well rested.
Aim for optimal conditions
It’s much easier to drive on a mild weather day than it is to drive in the middle of a snowstorm. It’s also much easier to drive during the daylight than it is to drive in the dark. Keep this in mind before you head out. If you have trouble with glare from headlights or don’t see as well in the dark, stick to daytime trips only. If the weather is bad, you may want to leave the car at home. In general, you might feel more comfortable driving in light traffic conditions and will want to avoid rush hour.
Make sure your car still works for you
As your body changes, you may find you need to make adjustments to your car to better suit you. This could mean investing in adaptive equipment, such as a cushion to raise your seat up so you can see better, or pedal extenders to make it easier to reach the pedals. In some cases, this might simply mean it’s time to get a new car that better suits your needs. If you’ve got a big truck or a larger car, you might find it easier to drive a smaller model instead.
Adopt safe driving habits
After many years of driving, it’s likely you may have picked up a few bad habits. In your senior years, it’s time to get back to basics and trade those in for good driving habits. When you’re on the road, make sure you always pay attention at intersections and watch out for crosswalks. It’s also a good idea to leave plenty of space between you and the car in front of you to give yourself as much time as possible to slow down if you need to suddenly hit the brakes. You should also aim to keep your car a distraction-free zone – don’t use your cell phone while you’re in the car, keep the music down, and don’t be afraid to ask your passengers to keep the volume down if you need to concentrate.
Know when it’s time to stop driving
Watch for signs that driving has become more difficult for you and be honest with yourself and your loved ones about it. Perhaps you might notice a few dents or scrapes from times when you’ve missed the mark when you park your car. You may find yourself getting confused or lost while on a familiar route, or notice your reaction time slowing down drastically. All of these may be signs that it’s time to stop driving. Take the time to discuss it with your family and your doctors to determine what’s best for you.
When it comes to driving regulations for seniors, the rules differ from place to place. In British Columbia, seniors are required to renew their license at 80 years old, and then must renew it every two years thereafter. The renewal process typically involves a medical exam performed by your doctor, to ensure you’re healthy enough to stay behind the wheel.