One of the first things people need to remember is that driving is a privilege, not a right. Many elderly drivers feel that taking away their keys is the equivalent of a teenager being grounded, and they resent being treated like a child. The decision is difficult for a senior’s family to remove driving privileges, but when it involves the safety of everyone on the road, it must be made for the good of the majority. Adults over the age of 65 are more likely to be seriously injured in an automobile accident than a younger person. They also have a higher rate of running stop signs, failing to yield right of way, making improper turns and being in multiple-car accidents. These statistics are alarming, and they need to be taken seriously. Senior citizens can avoid becoming a traffic statistic by practicing safe driving and taking care of their health.
Health Issues of Older Adults May Affect Driving
As senior adults age, they often face health issues that may impair their driving. It is critical to have periodic vision and hearing exams. An updated pair of prescription glasses or hearing aids may make the difference that prevents an accident. Following are some other health issues that may impair driving.
- Lack of sleep from insomnia
- Medications that affect judgment, vision or alertness
- Night blindness
- Slower reactions
- Lack of mobility
- Dementia or memory loss
Senior citizens who suffer from any health issues that can impair their driving should seek medical advice. In some cases, doctors may have a solution to remove or improve the impairment.
Driving Tips for Seniors
Whether senior citizens are covered by elderly car insurance or not, or are viewed as one of the safest driving groups on the road, safety driving tips are important and necessary to prevent road accidents and personal injury as the process of aging slows down reflexes.
- Avoid driving when exhausted. Early signs of exhaustion are tired eyes, yawning, poor concentration, restlessness, slow reactions, and drowsiness.
- A correct driving posture improves control of the car, reduces fatigue and allows the safety features to operate effectively.
- The height of seat should be adjusted. It will make much difference to how much can be seen ahead and around.
- Driving between midnight to 6 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. should be avoided if possible.
- Give way to pedestrians and all traffic when entering and leaving the driveway.
- Small children can be impossible to see from inside a car especially when they are immediately behind it. They should be supervised for their unpredictable actions.
- If possible, someone should be asked to watch you reverse in the driveway.
Follow Road Roundabout Rules
- Slow down while approaching a roundabout.
- Before Merging or Changing Lanes, always signal in advance.
- Maintain a Safe Gap and Use the Three-Second Rule, Watch the vehicle in front of you pass a stationary object at the side of the road. Count “1000 and 1, 1000 and 2, 1000 and 3.” If you pass the stationary object before you finish counting, you are following closely.
- If a vehicle moves into your safe gap, slow down and repeat the rule. It will only add a few seconds to traveling time.
- Blind spots should be checked before changing lanes or moving from a stationary position. Look over shoulder behind and beside you.
- Pedestrians, bicycle riders, motorcycles and children should be checked twice.
- Scanning around and checking of mirrors should always be done ahead.
Be Aware for Possible Hazards
- Be alert with surroundings and the road ahead.
- If the weather is bad and visibility is poor, adjust speed for a safe stop if necessary.
- A lesson with a professional driving instructor should be considered to refresh knowledge of the rules.
- Annual driving tests are usually required for senior, with age-dependent on local rules.
Maintain Car for Safety
- Incorrect tire pressure can reduce the life of tires and make the car less safe as well as difficult to drive.
- The car should be regularly serviced and checked for tire pressure, car oil and radiator coolant.
- The windscreen should be regularly cleaned to reduce glare.
Have a Regular Health Check-up.
- A regular examination with an optometrist is necessary.
- A regular health or medical checkup with the doctor to ensure the capability to drive.
- Many medications can affect driving. Instructions should be carefully followed and best is to check with a doctor.
- Avoid alcohol if planning to drive
Defensive Driving Course for the Elderly
Take a defensive driving course to brush up on skills that may have been forgotten and to learn new safety rules. As more cars have entered the roadways, more laws have been enacted to accommodate them. A driving course will provide more information to help senior citizens be safe on the roads. Common driving courses for people over 50 includes:
- How to make adjustments due to hearing, vision and slower reactions
- Proper distance to maintain behind cars
- Lane changing and turn safety
- Use of safety devices such as seatbelts, antilock brakes and airbags
- How to avoid accidents due to blind spots
- Reasons to eliminate distractions
Organizations and companies that offer senior citizen driving courses in person or online:
Senior Citizen Automobile Insurance
Contact auto insurance companies to find out if they offer a discount to senior citizens who have completed a defensive driving course. Many of them have partnered with programs designed with the special needs of seniors in mind. Let the insurance agent know if there will be fewer miles put on the car each year due to not having to commute to work.
Aside from Elderly Car Insurance that may already be in place, some countries provide Older Driver Licensing Systems designed to balance safety and independence of older drivers. In general, local community council offer services for senior citizens and elderly; they should be contacted for available information.
Caregivers Can Help Seniors who Drive
Make Sure Seniors Drive Winterized Vehicles
Caregivers and friends of elderly persons can make winter driving easier and safer. Make sure the elderly person’s car is winterized to help prevent breakdowns. Does the senior have a reliable cell phone should he or she need to call for help? Does he or carry basic supplies in case he becomes stranded?
Help Winterize Senior’s Vehicle
Driving to work or making a trip to the grocery store can be hazardous in winter weather. Getting around in snow and sleet is even tougher for an elderly driver. Caregivers and friends can make winter driving safer for seniors by following a vehicle safety check:
- Has the car seen a mechanic for a winter checkup? A good mechanic will check the brakes, hoses, belt(s), defroster and all fluids, including the antifreeze. Have him check the age and condition of the battery, too.
- Check the vehicle’s lights, including emergency flashers. Replace any bulbs that need replacing. Check the fuse if changing a bulb doesn’t do the trick. Put extra fuses in the glove compartment.
- Check the condition of wiper blades. Look for cracks or dry rotting rubber and replace the blades if needed. It’s safer to change the blades now than to try and get another season out of them.
- Inspect tires, including the spare, to make sure all are in good condition and aired properly. If you need snow tires in your part of the country, then put them on before bad weather hits the area.
- Snow and ice buildup on headlights and leave a residue on mirrors. Help your elderly friend or loved one by cleaning vehicle lights and mirrors at least once a week or remind them to do it.
- For longer trips, make sure the car has heavy duty booster cables and an emergency road kit that includes a plastic “help” sign and some sort of reflective equipment (flares, reflectors or triangles). It’s a good idea to carry a fire extinguisher, too.
- Make sure there’s a first aid kit in the car. If the person is on medication, recommend that he keep a 24-hour supply handy to take whenever he travels. This includes inhalers and any needed medical devices.
Encourage Senior Drivers to Share Winter Travel Plans
Where is your elderly friend or loved one traveling? Ask him to share his travel plans with you or someone else. It’ll save a lot of worry if the elderly person carries a cell phone. Does the senior belong to an auto club in the event of a breakdown that may require towing?
- Advise an elderly driver not to go it alone when driving long distances in inclement weather.
- Taking back roads to avoid traffic may be fine during the rest of the year, but a breakdown in winter could be life-threatening if no one else is around. Ask the elder for a travel route.
- Icy roads and speed make a deadly combination. Urge the older driver to allow plenty of time for the trip and don’t be in a hurry.
Weather conditions can turn ugly fast. Remind the elder to get off the road if visibility is difficult. It’s better to wait it out at a truck stop or other public place than to run off the road and be stranded with injuries.
Make Sure the Senior Driver is Prepared for Winter Travel
Build a winter driving kit if the elderly driver doesn’t have one. In fact, many of the items given in this article would make nice gifts for an elderly driver. Anyone who travels in areas where there’s ice and snow should be prepared for storms and emergency breakdowns. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared for getting stuck in traffic on the highway, too. What goes into a winter driving kit?
- Thermal blankets or a sleeping bag. Use in an emergency to stay warm.
- Food and bottled water. Both are necessary for longer trips. Energy bars and snack mixes work well.
- Extra clothing. Store an extra set of clothes in the car, such as a sweat outfit. You might also want to include gloves, a winter hat, a scarf and heavy socks. An extra pair of shoes isn’t a bad idea too, in case the worn pair gets wet.
- Large flashlight (6-volt battery type or better). Keep this within easy reach. It can be used to signal for help. It might also offer some measure of comfort should the elderly person be stranded overnight.
- Shovel and kitty litter or a bag of sand (for tire traction). Road kits sometimes include equipment (duct tape, screwdriver, etc.) to make small temporary auto repairs. An elderly person stranded off the road may or may not be able to utilize such equipment.
Senior Winter Drivers Should Carry Survival Items in the Vehicle’s Interior
Items such as blankets, food, water and medications should be carried in the interior of the vehicle and not in the trunk. Why? If an elderly person becomes stranded alone and off the road, he or she may not have the strength or mobility to get to the trunk of the car.
A lone elderly driver needs easy access to the most important life-sustaining items. A person usually keeps his cell phone with him (not in the trunk). Without a cell phone (or if the cell phone doesn’t work), it may be several hours or longer before the vehicle is discovered and the driver rescued.
Older Drivers Can Be Stubborn, So Be Prepared
Remember, not all older people drive late model cars. Older vehicles don’t come with a GPS navigation system (Global Positioning System) or an OnStar safety and security system. And too, there are some older folks that don’t want to be bothered with cell phones and new-fangled car gadgets. One more thing to consider: Even the best-maintained vehicles can have an unexpected breakdown.
Winter is a stressful time for drivers of all ages. Elderly loved ones that are used to being on the go the rest of the year don’t want to stay inside all winter. Do you know an elderly person who insists on driving in adverse weather? If so, then be a conscientious caregiver or friend. See to it that the elder’s vehicle is properly maintained for winter conditions. Make sure the driver is prepared for unexpected situations with winter driving survival supplies. If an emergency does arise, the effort you make may very well save the elderly person’s life.
How Caregiver Can Identify When Elderly Person Shouldn’t Drive
A caregiver or other family member is urged to pay close attention when an elderly loved one takes to the road after a serious illness or injury. Consult with other family members or friends and get their opinion if it’s necessary. Watch the senior citizens warning signs of unsafe driving:
- Drives too fast or too slow for road and environmental conditions
- Asks for help from passengers
- Does not observe signs or signals
- Has a slow reaction time
- Follows too close or stops too far back behind the vehicle ahead
- Becomes irritated, frustrated or confused, especially in unfamiliar territory
- Blames others – even pedestrians – for his mistakes
- Gets lost easily
- Cannot explain scratches or small dents on the car
- Has frequent near-misses
- Hits both the gas and brake pedals by accident at the same time
- Gets the gas and brake pedals confused
- Has trouble staying in a lane or gauging curves
- Has difficulty turning
What to Do When It’s Time for a Senior Citizen to Stop Driving
The need for an older adult to stop driving may show up as a series of events. It could be minor accidents, expressions of fear on the senior’s part, or observations of family, neighbors, or friends. Sometimes the senior may limit driving to necessary trips to the store, showing an increased awareness of perceived dangers.
How to Take Away a Senior’s Car Keys
Family and friends wonder what to do when it’s time for a senior to stop driving. The decision to maintain safety needs to be made before someone gets hurt. There are a number of valid reasons an older adult should stop driving, including medications and reaction time. Taking away the car keys is best done without adding undue trauma to the senior’s life.
Depending on the situation, the caregiver – be it spouse or adult child – will seek a method which causes the least pain for all concerned. It may be helpful to seek professional help from a physician, counselor or trusted friend who is aware of recent events. This can provide needed objectivity in looking at all the information available to make the right decision.
Once a caregiver has resolved that it is time for the senior in question to stop driving, care should be given when addressing the issue with the older adult. There may be conversations which discuss risks and reflect on situations where dangers of injury were obvious. There is no doubt that the average senior citizens wish no harm to others, and would find this possibility troubling.
A statement like this may help: “I love you and I want you to live a long life without guilt or injury.” The reference to guilt can be explained as what could happen to passengers of other cars if they are seriously hurt or killed. If possible, gently convince the senior to make the choice not to drive. But sometimes, more assertiveness is needed on the part of the caregiver. In that case, a spouse or caregiver may have to do the driving or make arrangements for transportation. It is vital to make every effort to not reduce the senior’s lifestyle, and worth the time invested in seeing that the usual activities of the church, community, etc are still possible. Some family members have been known to make a car malfunction to avoid it is being driven, but that is temporary at best, and manipulative and unfriendly at worst. It is important that seniors should not be offended by suppressive methods. Techniques discussed in the articles can definitely be really helpful in ensuring the safety of seniors while driving.