We all remember that feeling of getting our driver’s license and the sense of adventure it offered. A whole world opened up as we explored new and vast horizons. The reality, however, is that all of us will reach a point when we must give up driving. Whether due to physical or cognitive limitations, the time will come to turn in the car keys for safety’s sake. But until that day, older adults can take several steps to stay safe behind the wheel:
• Exercise regularly to increase strength and flexibility. Keeping a good range of motion through the neck and shoulders helps with being able to safely merge into traffic.
• Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review medicines that may be causing side effects that impact your driving skills.
• Have your eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year. Wear glasses and corrective lenses as required, and be sure to have an extra pair in the vehicle.
• Plan the safest route with well-lit streets, intersections, with left turn arrows and easy parking. If you have a number of errands to run, plan a route so your turns are to the right.
• Leave a generous distance between your car and the one in front. Your reaction time has declined with age, even if you are in good physical condition.
• Avoid distractions such as listening to a radio, talking on your cell phone and eating. And don’t even think about texting.
• Watch your alcohol intake. As we age, alcohol packs more of a punch. The risk of a crash doubles for a man who has had three drinks in one hour (and two drinks for a woman).
Consider updating your skills by taking a driver safety course. You’ll learn how you can manage and accommodate common age-related changes in vision, hearing and reaction time. The AARP Smart Driver Course is designed for drivers age 50 and older. You may be eligible to receive an insurance discount upon completing the course; consult your agent for details. AARP membership is not required to take the course, and there are no tests to pass. Community Thread offers the Smart Driver Course and refresher classes.
Family members who are worried about parents’ or older family members’ driving skills should be aware of the signs that the older adult may be having problems behind the wheel:
• A history of “near misses,” or new dents in the car.
• Two or more traffic tickets or warnings within the last two years.
• Complaints about the speed, sudden lane changes, or actions of other drivers.
Having “the conversation” about giving up driving is difficult. Focus the conversation on safety with the goal of the older driver continuing the activities he or she currently enjoys. Offer to help the person stay independent and remember that there are other options. A list of transportation resources for Washington County residents may be found at communitythreadmn.org under Transportation, Links and Resources.
Older adults needing a ride to a medical appointment can contact Community Thread’s transportation program, offering door-to-door transportation service for seniors and others residing in the Stillwater Area School District who are unable to drive themselves to medical appointments. Volunteer drivers use their personal vehicles, and riders need to be able to walk without assistance. Riders pay a fare that varies depending on the distance to and from their home and the medical facility where they have an appointment. For riders with limited means, fares may be discounted or waived.
Don’t forget: it costs a lot to own and operate a car. If you don’t have to make car payments or pay for insurance, maintenance, gas, oil or other car expenses, then you may be able to afford to use other services to safely get where you need to go. The whole world will still be there for you.
By Sally Anderson