Dec 10
Senior woman driving a car

Safe Driving Tips for Seniors

Driving is an important part of staying independent. Parents and senior relatives will be the first to tell you that hopping in the car to shop in Seattle or see friends around the Puget Sound area keeps life fun and rewarding.

But as we grow older our bodies change. It may be harder to see long distances or hear as many sounds as before. Night vision may be limited. Reaction times slow down. While not uncommon, these physical changes may impact a senior’s driving ability.

That’s why during Older Driver Safety Awareness Week, December 7-11th, The American Occupational Therapy Association brings attention to road safety for seniors. This event promotes awareness for the ways health and mobility help older adults stay active.

Here’s how mature drivers can continue to enjoy the freedom automobile travel affords.

Schedule an Eye Exam

Good vision is a must for getting behind the wheel. As much as eighty-five percent of driving decisions involve our eyes, according to the AAA Foundation. But certain visual abilities decline over time. Colors become harder to see. Aging eyes are more sensitive to glare, which can make driving at night more difficult. Changes in depth perception make it harder to judge the speed and distance of objects.

For these reasons, seniors should see an eye doctor annually. Make sure prescriptions for glasses or corrective lenses are up-to-date.

When driving, keep the windshield, mirrors, and headlights clean.

If making left turns is a problem because of vision losses, plan a route that involves more right turns than left. Limit night driving and don’t go out at dusk or dawn when the sun could obscure your vision.

Pick a Senior-Friendly Car

Newer cars offer important safety features. Choose a car with with automatic transmission, adjustable seatbelts, air bags, power steering, and power brakes.

Keep the car in good working condition. Have tires checked regularly to be sure a senior driver stays safe during wet, slippery Seattle winters.

Mature drivers can improve their comfort while traveling by adjusting the seat height. A senior’s chest should be 10 inches or more away from the steering wheel. Install larger rear-view mirrors to minimize blind spots. An occupational therapist can recommend other assistive devices that will make it easier to steer and operate the gas pedal and brakes.

Know How Medications Affect Driving

Certain medications can slow reaction time and cause lightheadedness and sleepiness – all which pose a hazard on the road. Pay attention to medicine labels and warnings. If the bottle says, “Do not use while operating heavy machinery” never drive after taking that medication.

Talk to your doctor about the side effects of any over-the-counter or prescription medicines you or your senior loved one are taking. Never get behind the wheel if you are feeling drowsy.  Also, don’t mix alcohol with drugs that have warnings about drowsiness or operating heavy machinery.

If you have noticed a change in how safe you or an older loved one feels driving, Older Driver Safety Awareness Week is an opportunity to put better driving habits into practice. Doing so will also help you honor your loved one’s desire for personal freedom, while keeping them safe and healthy.