When we were young, a driver’s license meant freedom and independence. Over the next few decades, driving likely became an essential part of your life. You became used to hopping in your car to run errands, commute to work or travel. But along with the freedom driving affords, there is also the responsibility of ensuring that we are safe drivers.
Driving is a serious senior safety concern. According to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), there were almost 36 million licensed drivers in the United States in 2012 who were 65 years old or older, up by 34 percent from 1999. But every day, an average of 15 people in this age group are killed in a motor vehicle accident and 586 others are injured.
Of course, not all accidents are the driver’s fault—but, as you get older, you need to consider whether certain limitations are affecting your ability to drive. It’s not always easy to determine if or when you should switch to transportation alternatives. To get started, take these senior driving issues into consideration.
For many people, eyesight degrades over time. But as long as your vision can be corrected through glasses or contacts, it shouldn’t affect your driving ability. However, some eye conditions or diseases can’t be treated or corrected enough to ensure safe driving—such as advanced glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.
If you’ve been diagnosed with any eye condition, or you are noticing that you have trouble seeing, speak with your eye doctor. Your optician can help you determine whether your eyesight is strong enough to continue driving.
Chronic health issues may make driving risky over time. For example, conditions such as Parkinson’s disease may not make a difference in your driving ability at first, but as the symptoms worsen, it may become harder to drive safely.
Another example is diabetes. Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels and nerves in the eye, making it more difficult to see, especially at night. If you have a chronic disease, speak with your doctor about driving and any potential problems that may occur.
Most over-the-counter and prescription medications have side effects. Some may cause confusion or dizziness, while others may cause tremors or headaches. All these can affect your driving ability.
Speak with your pharmacist about what medications you take and how they may affect your ability to operate a vehicle. In some cases, these side effects can be eliminated with a healthy diet or by taking your dosage before bed instead of during the day.
Dementia is not an inevitable part of aging but it does affect many older adults. If you find that you’re getting lost in familiar neighborhoods or you aren’t quite sure what to do when you’re in a certain type of driving situations, this is dangerous for you and other drivers. If you’re experiencing symptoms of dementia, be sure and contact your physician for an evaluation.
Listening to your environment is an essential part of safe driving—from the sound of sirens approaching to sounds that indicate your vehicle is having trouble. Hearing loss doesn’t automatically mean you need to stop driving, but if you are having problems hearing, a checkup or a hearing aid may improve your abilities.
What are Your Options?
Giving up driving can be difficult, but given the increased number of seniors who do need to get around, many communities are coming up with solutions, such as volunteer drivers, prepaid taxis, special bus shuttle services, reduced public transit passes, and more. If you find yourself making the decision not to drive, there are many other opportunities available to help you retain your independence and mobility.
Aging often means making tough choices, but not all decisions need to be hard. Discover why aging in place may be the best and easiest choice you make in our free guide, Aging in Place: A Popular Trend for a New Generation of Seniors.