By Alex Perdikis
It happens to everyone: you walk into a room to get something and once you’re there you suddenly wonder, “Why did I come in here in the first place?” Admit it, you’ve done it. Busy lives and multitasking are sometimes the cause of this amusingly common experience. Getting older is another cause. As people age, they lose a little of the mental acuity they once had. They also may have less than perfect vision as well as hearing loss. All of which impact their driving.
“Driving can be particularly problematic for an older driver. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), older drivers have a higher fatality rate in crashes, based on miles driven, than any group except very young drivers.” —Alex Perdikis
Many of the fatalities occur because older people are frailer than younger drivers and succumb to their injuries. Clearly there’s a need for older drivers to adapt their driving practices and sharpen their skills as they age.
If you are an older driver, take steps now to hone your driving skills and adapt your driving practices to ensure your safety as well as the safety of others.
Problem – What Problem?
Layne Hall was born in Mississippi in either 1880 or 1884. Records weren’t always accurate back then. Either way, when he died in 1990, he was the oldest licensed driver in the U.S. He drove nearly 75 years and never received a ticket or citation of any kind. In fact, in January 1990, the same year he died, he received a commendation letter for a lifetime of safe driving from the New York State Commissioner of Motor Vehicles.
Not many older drivers are as fortunate as Hall, however. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists a range of difficulties aged drivers experience, including loss of cognitive functions and physical impairment.
After driving so many years, it isn’t always obvious to the senior driver that skills once easily used are now lacking. Sometimes, however, the loss of driving abilities is painfully obvious. A senior may have narrowly avoided an accident at some point or been involved in an accident that was their fault.
If you’re over 60, it’s time to evaluate yourself. Answer the following questions:
- How is your eyesight? Can you read street signs, traffic lights, recognize someone you know and handle glare from headlights at night? When was the last time you had your eyes checked? Do you require new prescription glasses? Have a yearly comprehensive eye exam if you’re 60 or older.
- How’s your hearing? Hearing loss is common as people age. You may not be able to hear horns or emergency vehicle sirens, which could have tragic results. Have you had a hearing test lately?
- Are you able to move adequately in the driver’s seat? Can you look over your shoulder, move your foot easily from pedal to pedal and steer properly?
- Is driving more stressful for you now? Perhaps a medication you take makes you feel less aware, dizzy or sleepy is having an effect on your driving. Have you noticed a slower reaction time in normal driving situations?
- Has anyone expressed concern about the way you drive? It’s a red flag: if someone’s mentioned your driving, take note. Ask what did that concerned them. Don’t be offended. Take action.
What Can You Do?
Once you’ve identified problems, you can take positive steps to improve. If you haven’t had an eye and hearing exam recently, make an appointment. See your physician and ask about the medications you take, what their side effects are and seek advice about your ability to drive safely.
If your car is difficult to handle, consider trading it in for a car that better suits your current abilities. Newer cars often have safety features that let you know if you’re too close to another car and brake automatically in emergency situations. There are also aftermarket products you can add to your current vehicle to make it safer.
After making sure you’re physically able to drive, think about enrolling in a mature driver course. A senior driving class helps you brush up on skills, learn new techniques, discover the latest technologies and informs you about state-specific laws for senior drivers.
Most classes cover the following subjects related to senior driving:
- Ways to minimize blind spots
- Changing lanes safely
- Right of way rules
- Turns at intersections and U-turns
- Laws for construction zones, school buses, cell phone use, child safety seats and other laws specific to your state as well as penalties assessed when laws are broken
Additional Risks and Tips
Senior drivers are more at risk during specific less-than-optimal driving conditions. Avoid driving in rush hour traffic. Heavy traffic increases stress levels and requires faster reaction times. Night driving is often more difficult for seniors, so avoid it if you have trouble seeing when headlights approach. Stay home if you can during inclement weather. Your visibility may be further limited and your vehicle harder to control.
Getting older doesn’t necessarily mean you have to give up driving. It does mean you have to evaluate your current abilities and focus on making positive changes.
Alex Perdikis, Koons of Silver Spring general manager and owner, lives in Chevy Chase with his wife and daughters.