Sometimes, it is hard for an older person to realize that he or she is no longer a safe driver. Recently, as I was leaving a grocery store parking lot, I followed an elderly lady onto one of Denton’s heavily trafficked streets. As I watched her navigate in front of me, she failed to stay within her lane, unaware that as the road curved so did the lines which identified the lanes. Three times she cut in front of me and also another car in the lane beside me. Worried about her safely getting home, I couldn’t help but wonder if her children were aware of her difficulty driving. I know that I would want to know if my parents were having trouble behind the wheel of their own car.
There are many older drivers on the road who continue to be responsible and safe drivers. But there comes a point when we each must admit it’s time to let someone else take the wheel. If you are an aging driver or if you are concerned about a loved one who is an older driver, please consider the following:
- Our eyesight usually changes as we get older, making it harder to see movement or people outside our direct line of sight. It may also take longer to read street and traffic signs making driving decisions more difficult. Night driving can be more challenging and the glare from oncoming headlights can be an issue. During the daytime, sunlight can be blinding, too.
- Our hearing can change, making it harder to notice sirens or horns and these sounds warn us when we may need to pull over or get out of the way of emergency vehicles. We also may not hear the sounds coming from the interior of the car such as the blinker or seatbelt and other warning alerts.
- As we age, our reflexes may become slower affecting reaction time. Muscle weakness and loss of feeling in hands or feet may affect our ability to steer and brake. Medical diagnoses such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease as well as limitations following a stroke can make it unsafe to drive. People diagnosed with dementia often don’t realize that they are actually having trouble driving. Friends and family need to step in when they observe a potential problem. I know very well it’s not easy to take keys away from someone who wants to remain independent.
- Newly introduced medicines may cause a person to be drowsy or less alert than usual. Some prescriptions caution against driving during usage because the side effects make operating a vehicle unsafe. Sometimes multiple prescriptions can interact negatively with each other so a discussion with a doctor is important. This is true for drivers of any age, not just older drivers…
- Many aging drivers become hesitant and unsure about driving decisions. They may have problems when yielding the right of way, keeping a safe and constant speed, changing lanes, making turns, and exiting and entering highways. Frustration may come easily behind the wheel.
We all age differently. We just need to be aware of the subtle changes in our own driving habits. If someone you care about is an aging driver, take the time to assess their current driving skills. Also be aware of any accidents, fender benders and even new dents or scrapes on the vehicle. Multiple traffic tickets within a short time frame are a warning sign. Pay attention to any comments from friends or neighbors regarding their driving. Notice any health issues or anxiety that might affect their ability to safely get behind the wheel. It may take a recommendation from a caregiver or doctor to assess whether or not driving is advisable any more. It may not be a pleasant conversation, but remember that your loved one’s safety as well as the safety of other drivers on the road is important.