Q: I recently had a fender bender and another near miss accident. I am worried and do not want to lose my license. Are there any tips on how to stay a safe driver as I get older?
A: Staying safe on the road is always important and I applaud you for recognizing that you may need to make some accommodations as you get older to ensure your safety. As we age, there are natural changes to our vision, mobility and reflexes that need to be adjusted for while driving. This does not mean you cannot continue to drive in a safe way, but only if are aware of your limitations and can make any necessary adaptations.
If you are concerned about your driving because of recent accidents or concerns from friends or family, you may want to start by taking a driving course. There are classes specifically designed for mature drivers aged 55 and older. They provide information on defensive driving, motor vehicle laws and any updates to rules of the road. These classes also focus on effects that medication, fatigue, alcohol, visual, or auditory limitations have on a person’s driving ability.
An added benefit to taking a mature driving course is that it may qualify you for a discount on your insurance. You can find a list of courses here https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/vehicle-industry-services/occupational-licensing/occupational-licenses/mature-driver-improvement-program/approved-mature-driver-improvement-programs/
Be aware of any physical changes that may alter your driving techniques. It is common to experience vision changes as we age. See your eye doctor yearly and make sure any prescription for glasses or contacts is up to date. If you have trouble seeing in the dark, then cut back on driving at night.
Your reflexes may be slower and stiff joints may make it more difficult to move quickly and turn your head to react. To ensure safety, leave more space between you and the car in front of you to allow more reaction time to break as needed. Avoid driving during rush hour or limit the freeways you travel on. Stay in the right lane that is meant for slower driving. If you are not feeling well, or there is inclement weather, stay home and limit driving.
Ask your doctor if any of your medications or health problems may make driving unsafe. Share your concerns with your doctor so that you can work together to ensure safety.
Age related changes are different for everyone. There is no set age when driving is no longer safe. Instead, each person is responsible for evaluating and ensuring their safety. We must remember this is not just about ourselves, but for the safety of everyone on the road. Notice if people honk at you while driving, if you get lost on familiar roads, if you have accidents, or if you find you get distracted by driving.
Be prepared for days when you are not comfortable driving or for a time when you may choose to stop driving. Prepare by learning about and trying alternate transportation. Learn about the local bus lines, Dial A Ride service or volunteer ride programs. If you do not know where to look for transportation options, call 211 for information.
Knowing your own limitations is an important part of staying safe. If you ignore your physical changes and continue to drive like you did 20 years ago you may run into trouble. Be truly honest with yourself. If you know in your gut that you are no longer safe driving, then have the good sense and good grace to stop and ensure you are not putting anyone else on the road in danger.
Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at email@example.com