Aging adults and drivers safety

Ask yourself these questions to see if you or a loved one should still be behind the wheel.

As Americans, we value our independence. We appreciate living in the “land of the free” and we love our ability to come and go as we please. Sometimes as we age, coming and going as we please becomes a little more difficult, especially when it comes to driving. Driving demands sharp eyesight, quick reflexes, good memory and the ability to make many small decisions while we’re behind the wheel. For some, these skills may decline with age.

According to Michigan’s Guide for Aging Drivers and their Families, a driver assessment might be necessary to determine if a person can drive safely. Driving skills may deteriorate so slowly that you may be unaware of what’s happening to yourself or a loved one. It may also be hard for a person to admit that it is becoming more difficult, for fear that their driver’s license will be taken away.

The Physician’s Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers, developed by the American Medical Association includes a list of questions that can help you determine if your, or a loved one’s driving abilities should be evaluated. Do any of these statements apply?

  • Getting lost while driving.
  • Do friends or family members say that they are worried about the questioned drivers driving?
  • Other cars seem to appear from nowhere.
  • Trouble finding and reading signs in time to respond to them.
  • Other drivers drive too fast.
  • Other drivers often honking at the driver in question.
  • Feeling uncomfortable, nervous or fear while driving.
  • Feeling tired after driving.
  • Feeling sleepy while driving.
  • Having “near-misses” lately.
  • Bothered by busy intersections.
  • Nervous about making left-hand turns.
  • Being bothered by the glare from oncoming headlights.
  • Medications that cause dizziness or drowsiness.
  • Trouble turning the steering wheel.
  • Trouble pushing down the foot pedal.
  • Difficulty looking over the shoulder when backing up.
  • Being stopped by the police for a driving citation.
  • Other people are no longer willing to ride with the driver.
  • Difficulty backing up.
  • Car crashes during the past year that were the questioned drivers fault.
  • Being too cautious when driving.
  • Forgetting to use mirrors or signals.
  • Forgetting to check for oncoming traffic.
  • Trouble parking.

If any of these statements is true, the questioned driver may be at risk for accident or injury when driving. What can you do? Consult a doctor about ways to improve driving safety. Ask a physician about side effects from medication, possible allergic reactions or unsafe drug interactions that might interfere with the ability to drive.

If eyesight is presenting a challenge, consider driving only during daylight hours and refraining from driving in bad weather. Also, be sure to have eyesight checked by an ophthalmologist or optometrist annually.

Staying in good physical shape can also help with driving. Regular physical activity, including stretching, can help if a person is having difficulty looking over their shoulder, turning the steering wheel or pressing their foot on the gas or brake pedal.

Driving can also assessed by a driver rehabilitation specialist. A specialist can be found through the Association for Driver Rehabilitation. You can also attend a driver refresher class through the Automobile Association of America (AAA) or AARP Driver Safety.

Prepare to discuss the topic of driving by reading Preaparing to talk to older adults about driving. Enjoy the independence of driving and be sure to stay safe!

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