Driver safety requires more than an understanding of road signs. Your health can affect your ability to drive safely. As you get older, you'll likely notice changes to your body that can make actions such as turning your head to look for oncoming traffic or driving at night more of a challenge. Getting older doesn't mean your driving days are numbered.
Stay physically fit.
As you age, your muscles generally become weaker, your joints stiffen and your flexibility decreases. Your reflexes begin to slow as well. The accumulation of these effects makes certain elements of driver safety more difficult. Physical fitness helps counter these changes. Staying physically active improves your strength and flexibility, which may help with such actions as turning the steering wheel and looking over your shoulder.
Know our medications.
Prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications can cause drowsiness or a slow reaction time, reducing driver safety. Read the labels of your medications so that you know what to expect from each one. Medications that might cause drowsiness include antihistamines, sedatives, drugs that treat depression and diabetes, and strong painkillers. Don't drive if you've taken medications that cause drowsiness. Ask your doctor if another medication that doesn't have this side effect is available.
Have your vision and hearing tested regularly.
Your hearing and vision, particularly your night vision, tend to decline as you age. Impaired hearing may impede your ability to hear an approaching emergency vehicle or train. Ask your doctor how frequently you should schedule examinations. Even if you think your hearing and vision are fine, stick to your doctor's recommended exam schedule. Problems may be easier to correct if caught at an early stage.
Understand your limitations.
Many medical conditions become more common as you age and can make driving difficult. Know what your limitations are and make adjustments. For instance, if your hands hurt when gripping the steering wheel, look for a steering wheel cover that makes holding and turning the wheel more comfortable. Ask your doctor for a referral to an occupational therapist who can suggest ways to make driving easier for you. An occupational therapist may offer assistive devices to help you drive or suggest specific exercises to help you overcome your limitations.
Manage your health conditions.
Keep on top of your health by following your doctor's recommendations to help you manage any disease or condition you may have. For instance, if you have diabetes, follow your doctor's instructions for managing your blood sugar. This can help you avoid low blood sugar levels while you're behind the wheel.
Drive under optimal conditions.
When possible, drive during the daytime, in good weather, on less busy roads and in familiar areas. Plan your route to avoid rush-hour traffic. Delay your trip if the weather isn't good. Make sure you're in optimal condition to drive, too. Don't drive tired. Don't drive angry. Never drive if you've had any alcohol. Alcohol has a greater effect on older adults. Abstain from alcohol if you know you'll be driving. When you get in your vehicle, be prepared to drive. Plan ahead so that you can concentrate on driving. Avoid distractions such as adjusting the radio, eating or talking on a cell phone. Plan your route ahead of time so that you don't find yourself trying to read a map while driving
Adjust your vehicle to meet your needs.
Consider updating your vehicle if it's becoming difficult to drive. There may be some new features that can be added to your existing vehicle. Features such as large mirrors, good visibility, power windows and door locks, and an automatic transmission may help you overcome physical limitations you may have. An adjustable driver's seat may make you more comfortable and give you a better view of the road. Larger dials on your dashboard may be easier to read
Update your driving skills.
Organizations such as AARP offer refresher courses for drivers age 50 and older. You may also get a discount on your car insurance, depending on your policy. Driver safety courses may also be hosted by organizations in your community that serve older adults or by a community education program.
Excerpted from MayoClinic.com. For complete article, click on: www.mayoclinic.com/health/senior-health/HA00042