Driving can become a challenge for older adults. But getting older doesn’t have to mean an end to your driving days. Driver safety includes more than just understanding road signs and traffic laws. As you age, you’ll likely notice physical changes that can make driving more challenging, for example, turning your head to look for oncoming traffic or braking safely. Start by evaluating changes to your eyesight, hearing, physical fitness level and reflexes or ability to react quickly to sudden changes, and you may be able to adjust your driving habits to stay safe on the road.
As you age, your joints may stiffen and your muscles may weaken. Chronic diseases like Arthritis might affect your ability to drive. For example, “it can become difficult for your hands to grip the steering wheel, your neck can become stiff and hard to move, making it harder for you to turn your head or look back over your shoulder, and you can also have pain in your back which can cause discomfort while sitting for prolonged periods of time,” said Sanjay Godhwani, MD. “Arthritis can also cause swelling and flares to joints like knees and that can make it difficult to press the brakes and even get in and out of your vehicle,” Godhwani said. See your doctor if pain, stiffness or arthritis seem to get in the way of your driving. They may be able to recommend medications or an exercise regimen to keep you physically active while improving your strength and flexibility. If possible, choose to drive an automatic transmission with power steering, power brakes, large mirrors and a back-up camera to make it easier for you to maneuver the vehicle safely.
See your eye doctor every year to keep track of changes to your eyesight. Make sure you wear your glasses or contact lenses while driving if instructed to do so by your doctor. If you have trouble seeing at night, try to limit your driving to daylight hours. Even older adults with good vision can experience visual problems at night, such as glare from oncoming headlights.
Have your hearing checked at least every three years after age 50. If you notice that you don’t hear car horns, sirens or even noises coming from your own vehicle, discuss this with your doctor as this could be a risk to your safety and the safety of others on the road. You need to be able to hear sounds that might warn you to pull over or get out of the way.
If you notice your reflexes slowing, stiff joints, or weakness in your muscles that make it harder to move quickly, remember to leave more space between you and the car in front of you. Start braking earlier when you need to stop and avoid driving during rush-hour or on busy highways. It’s better to go a little bit out of your way to avoid more difficult roads and intersections.
If you take any medications that make you feel drowsy, lightheaded, or less alert, it may be unsafe for you to drive. Read the labels carefully and pay attention to the side effects of your medications. Make a list of all of your medications and discuss them with your doctor and talk about how they might affect your ability to drive. In general, it is a good idea to ask your doctor if any of your health problems or medications might make it unsafe for you to drive. Together you can make a plan to help keep you on the road safely or decide when it really is no longer safe for you to drive.