Safety Tips for Older Drivers
Some content adapted from information supplied by NYS Office for the Aging .
All of the following are methods that can help any driver drive safely, and they are especially important to help older drivers continue to drive safely:
- Always wear your seat-belt.
- Continuously move your eyes and observe all traffic.
- Look for vehicles that enter the highway from curbs, driveways and businesses.
- Be alert for parked cars, pedestrians and cyclists.
- Frequently check both your inside and outside rearview mirrors.
- Check for traffic behind you. Turn your head and neck and look over your shoulder before you turn or change traffic lanes.
- Do not expect that you will be given the right of way, even if you know it ought to be given to you.
- Make sure that it is safe to pass or change traffic lanes before you do so.
- Keep a minimum three-second following distance. Start your count when the car ahead passes a fixed point.
- When you drive in rain or winter weather, reduce your speed and increase your following distance.
- Make sure there is a safe amount of space on all sides of your vehicle.
- Plan all your trips so you can use routes you know well. Stay away from highways with heavy traffic and high traffic speeds.
- Try not to drive at dusk or dawn when you cannot see as well
- Do not drive for extended periods of time without rest.
- Keep windshields and rear windows clean on the inside and the outside.
- Avoid looking at the headlights of vehicles that approach you.
- Concentrate on your driving and be prepared for events you do not expect.
- Do not drive if you are emotionally upset.
- Reduce background noise. Keep your air conditioning or heater and the volume of your radio, on lower settings.
- Never drive after you consume alcohol or drugs (including prescription drugs).
- Also read the labels on over-the-counter medications. These medications can also affect your ability to drive.
- Take a driver improvement course.
It is important for older drivers to retain or improve their driving skills and judgment. Older drivers can help maintain safe driving skills and extend their years of driving if they:
- Have their driving abilities assessed frequently
- Attend driver safety courses to help renew driving knowledge and skills.
- Recognize vision changes and see their eye care specialist
- Keep active to maintain quick reflexes and remain flexible.
- When required, get physical therapy and medical rehabilitation.
The process of becoming older brings physical changes that decrease driving abilities. The exact age at which the changes can occur depends on each person. For all older drivers, it is important to recognize when the changes occur.
The changes to look for include:
- Decreased vision, especially at night.
- A decreased ability to judge the distance between your car and other vehicles.
- Movements that are restricted or difficult and longer reaction times caused by disabilities that include arthritis and rheumatism.
When you recognize the changes in yourself, it is important to know how to compensate for the changes:
- Keep a standard schedule for vision and hearing examinations.
- If you normally wear glasses or contact lenses or a hearing aid, always wear them when you drive.
- Give yourself time to adjust to new lenses, and have your lenses checked often.
- Use medications correctly. Understand how medications can affect your driving. Avoid driving when you take medications that can change your coordination, vision or judgment.
The loss of the driving privilege is a very significant concern for any driver. The driver license is often both a symbol of independence and seen as a requirement for a normal life.
Rather than stop driving completely and lose independence, older drivers can restrict driving to adjust to changes in their driving skills. Older drivers can:
- Drive in daylight hours and not at dawn, dusk or at night when it is more difficult for a driver to see at these hours.
- Avoid "rush hours" and other peak traffic hours.
- Use roads that you know well and avoid roads you do not know well.
- Take shorter trips.
- Use highways that have lower speed limits.
- Do not try to eat or drink while you drive. Eating while driving is the fourth leading cause of crashes and near-crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
- Do not use a cell phone or any other hand-held device while driving.
As the country ages, there will be more families who need to deal with the issue of older driver safety. Approximately one in every seven drivers now is age 65 or older, and the percentage of older drivers continues to grow. By 2029, approximately one in four drivers will be age 65 or older.
Any of the following can be signs of possible problems. It can be a warning sign if the older driver or the family notice that the driver:
- Has frequent accidents or near-accidents, or frequent traffic tickets or warnings from the police.
- Has dents or scrapes on the car, or on fences, mailboxes, garage doors, curbs, and other locations.
- Finds that it is difficult to accurately judge the amount of space between vehicles in traffic, at intersections and on highway entrance and exit ramps.
- Frequently becomes lost.
- Cannot easily see both edges of the road when they look straight ahead.
- Has slower response time; cannot quickly move their foot from the gas pedal to the break pedal; or confuses the two pedals.
- Gets distracted easily or has problems with concentration.
- Cannot turn their head to check over the shoulder while they back up or change traffic lanes.
An older driver who continues to experience a decrease in driving abilities, may then have to consider how to limit driving or stop driving.
Improvements that result from new technologies and engineering have made driving easier and safer for all drivers. These improvements are more significant for older drivers who need to adjust to decreased driving skills. The improvements include:
- Cars that are built to be safer.
- Pavement lines, arrows and traffic signs that are larger and easier to see.
- Special traffic lanes for left turns.
- Improved traffic signals; for example left turn arrows.
- Better timing of traffic lights.
It is difficult for both the older drivers and the family when the older driver has become a risk on the highways. The circumstances can result in strong emotions, conflicts and confusion.
To help, the New York State Office for the Aging has the Older Driver and Pedestrian Safety Project. The Program offers a handbook for families with the title "When You Are Concerned." The 56-page book has won awards and is for families who need to deal with the issue of an older driver at risk.
The handbook is available at the website of the NYS Office for the Aging. You can also request a copy of the handbook by e-mail to email@example.com, by phone at 1-800-342-9871, or a request mailed to:
New York State
Office for the Aging
2 Empire State Plaza
Albany, New York 12223-1251