Getting behind the wheel and enjoying the freedom to travel is a luxury few are anxious to abandon. But there comes a time in nearly every person's life when he or she must take inventory of his or her driving and assess if that next joy ride is a safe and smart decision.
Driving may help older adults remain independent and mobile, but the chance for a motor vehicle accident increases as one ages. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says fatal crash rates per mile traveled increase starting at age 75 and increase notably after age 80. This is largely due to increased susceptibility to injury and medical complications among older drivers rather than an increased tendency to get into crashes. Road accidents tend to increase around a person's 65th birthday.
Authorities in Canada require physicians to warn patients if the doctors have any concerns about their patients' ability to drive. Doctors also must report these concerns. There are no such requirements in the United States, where individual drivers and families must use their own judgement to decide if it is still safe for a particular person to be on the road.
Minor fender benders, traffic citations, trouble remembering directions or frequently visited stores, may be early indications that a driver is no longer at his or her best behind the wheel. Some experts say that families should institute driving directives, much in the way a person would spell out medical desires or end-of-life plans. This way, when the time comes to assess driving ability, the conversation already has been started.
There is no set age when a person's keys should be taken away, as aging does not guarantee drivers' abilities will decline. In fact, there are many things people can do to prolong their time on the road.
• Get routine vision and hearing checks. These examinations will help to determine your fitness to be on the road and shed light on any issues that need to be addressed. Those who wear contact lenses or glasses may need to update their prescriptions.
• Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep can affect the body in many ways, including reducing reaction time. Falling asleep while driving can compromise the safety of drivers, their passengers and fellow motorists.
• Know your medications. Certain medications can make you drowsy, so read the labels so you know not to drive while taking them. Speak with your doctor to see if there are any substitutes that won't affect your performance behind the wheel.
• Recognize your limitations. You may not like driving at night or in inclement weather. Stick to driving when you feel most comfortable.
• Enroll in a refresher course. Sign up for a defensive driving course to review your driving skills. Not only may it make you safer on the road, but it also may help reduce your insurance rates.
Getting older doesn't mean you have to quit driving right away. Recognize the signs of a decline in driving ability and figure out how long it is safe to remain behind the wheel.