Staying Safe Behind the Wheel
Evaluating health conditions, driving skills, and practicing safe driving is key to maintaining senior independence and mobility.
In 2015, there were 8.2 million seniors age 80+ licensed to drive in the US. As boomers age, more seniors are hitting the road. By 2025, an estimated 25% of drivers will be over age 65 – an increase from 2001 data that showed 14% of drivers were seniors. Keeping family members safe on – and off – the road is of great importance.
5 Safe Driving Tips for Seniors
- Evaluate health conditions. Thoroughly assess a senior’s health, including:
- Medications and potential side effects
- Memory loss and cognition (ability to reason and remember)
- Neck mobility
- Vision and hearing impairments
- Physical limitations such as limited strength and flexibility due to conditions such as arthritis
In addition to exercising regularly to increase strength and flexibility, talk with your physician about over-the-counter and prescribed medication(s) to see what can interfere with safe driving. Side effects of medication and interaction of medications may cause blurry vision, dizziness, sleepiness, confusion, fatigue, and/or loss of consciousness. Discuss any side effects with your doctor or pharmacist.
Report any memory loss, anxiety, or other physical impairment with your physician for their recommendations. Have regular vision and hearing screenings so that you can best prepare for safe driving. Wear any prescribed corrective lenses or hearing aids.
- Encourage seatbelt use. Buckle-up, it’s the law. We have all heard the popular refrain, but for seniors, it is even more critical because injuries sustained in a car accident can be detrimental to frail individuals.
Don’t take it for granted that a senior you know is wearing their seat belt. A reported 40% of 65-74-year-olds and 29% of individuals age 75+ that were killed in car crashes were not wearing seatbelts at the time of the accident.
- Drive in optimal conditions. Plan your route before you drive and avoid low visibility conditions including darkness and fog. Limit driving in inclement weather including rain, sleet, snow, and ice. Avoid high-speed roads if you have driving concerns. Always leave an appropriate distance between you and the car you are following.
- Evaluate driving ability. Use this self-rating tool to see if you are paying full attention to the road and can perform necessary actions to drive safely. In-person driving assessments with a third-party professional is another way to evaluate driving skills.
Consider transportation alternatives including public transport, riding with a friend or family member, or a call transport service such as a taxi, Uber, or Lyft. Check out Rides in Sight, a website that shows transportation options for seniors.
- Focus on driving. Distractions such as a cell phone, loud radio, and even conversation in the car can be distracting, especially when one is focusing on safe driving techniques and road rules. Limit conversations and radio volume, and do not use a cell phone while driving.
If driving is still an option, a senior may consider taking a safe driving course as a final step to increase their confidence and awareness while behind the wheel. Finally, families should speak with their family members to see if they are still comfortable driving. Perhaps they are concerned that they can’t see clearly or they have anxiety about driving. By observing a family member while driving, and having an open conversation with the individuals – and perhaps even the physician – together you can determine if driving is still safe for those you love.