Remember being 16 years old, just learning to drive and getting your driver’s license?
The feeling of freedom that came with that little card was immeasurable. But as we enter our golden years, to drive or not to drive, is indeed the question. I’m not certain Shakespeare would have phrased it that way, but when is it time to stop or limit driving time? We all have a responsibility to others and ourselves not to endanger anyone by age-impaired driving and knowing when it’s time to hang up those keys.
Sadly, as we age, our bodies start to betray us. What we could once do with relative ease and confidence slowly starts to fade, most of the time without our knowledge. Several years ago I could see like a hawk and now all of a sudden, I need glasses and didn’t even realize my vision was slipping. The same thing happens to the skills we need that are necessary for responsible, safe driving.
“Check yourself before you wreck yourself.” But how do you check yourself?
Look for signs of worsening driving habits such as driving at inappropriate speeds, either too fast or too slow. Do you misinterpret road signs or traffic signals? Do you get lost repeatedly even in familiar areas? Do you fail to judge distances between vehicles correctly? What about becoming angry or frustrated very easily? If you answered yes to these questions, it may be time at the very least, to limit your driving time.
Steve Gursten of Michigan Auto Law says “The telltale signs that an older driver may need to reconsider his or her ability to safely drive include failing vision, confusion (dementia – in some cases), loss of physical coordination (both of which can affect something as simple as the ability to push down on accelerator when you meant to apply the brakes), problems with balance, declines in cognitive functioning and perception and delays in reaction time. Watch those medications you take and make sure they do not impair driving. Many medications will. If someone is becoming increasingly confused, disoriented and/or forgetful, then those are strong indicators that the older driver may need to permanently hang up those car keys and let someone else drive behind the wheel.”
Change is not always easy to accept but adapting to change is what people do best. According to Rick Ehlers of Traffic Safety Consultants Inc., “It’s valuable for drivers to learn about changes to their physical and mental faculties as they age. For instance, a driver aged 60 needs three times as much light to see as a teenager, and will take more than twice as long to adjust to a change from light to darkness. These are natural changes that affect everyone to some extent. But because we live in our bodies all the time and the transition is so gradual, we take our bodies for granted and often don’t realize that any change has occurred. Fortunately, simply having the situation pointed out is often enough to get older motorists to incorporate the simple, easy means to compensate for many age-related changes.”
Try to avoid driving at night and drive only to familiar locations. Avoid the fast paced expressways where quick lane changes and speeding often occur. Leave in plenty of time to arrive safely and if possible, don’t drive alone.
As an aged responsible driver, you need to constantly evaluate your driving skills or better yet, have someone you trust evaluate them for you. Driving assessments are available through many senior service agencies.
Mindy Smithwick, Mercy Occupational Therapist and Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist suggests “Assessments are recommended on a case-by-case basis based on concern, medical
changes or accidents. Seniors or older drivers who have notable changes in vision, thinking skills or physical limitations should have an assessment. Many times this allows the certified driver rehabilitation specialist (CDRS) to provide feedback to the person, their family and doctor regarding any concerns with their driving. Often times the CDRS can provide training that helps the individual be a safer driver and keep them driving longer. This is accomplished by adapting their driving by using compensatory strategies, improving specific skills, modifying their driving routes or behaviors.” After an evaluation, listen to what they have to say regarding your driving, it could save your life or the lives of others.