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Lifestyle & Travel

Reality Check: Should You Still Be Driving?

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Contrary to the bad rap senior drivers sometimes get, recent Consumer Reports have shown that older adults can be some of the safest drivers on the road, according to Rhonda L. Shah, traffic safety expert for AAA.

Shah notes that older adults tend to be law-abiding, wear seat belts, obey speed limits and may be less likely to drink before getting behind the wheel. Additionally, many older adults tend to limit the number of miles they drive and stop driving at night, during rush hour or on inclement days, reducing some of the “risks of the road.”

“Driving safety has to do with ability, not birthdays,” Shah says. Still, as she points out, when older drivers are involved in a crash, they’re more likely to be killed or injured. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2015 more than 6,800 drivers age 65 and older were killed and more than 260,000 others were treated in emergency departments for car crash injuries. That’s an average of 19 older adults killed and 712 injured in crashes every day.

While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notes that decisions about your ability to drive should not be based on age alone, “If you’ve noticed changes in your vision, physical fitness, attention and reaction time,” the agency advises, “it’s important to be aware of how these changes may be affecting your ability to drive safely.” Together with the USAA Educational Foundation and AARP, the NHTSA has developed the resource Driving Safely While Aging Gracefully to help you recognize warning signs that changes may be affecting your ability to drive safely.

Among the issues to consider:

  1. Signs of declining vision. You have problems reading highway or street signs or seeing lane lines and other pavement markings. You experience increased discomfort at night from the glare of oncoming headlights.
  2. Diminished physical fitness. You have trouble looking over your shoulder to change lanes or looking left and right to check traffic at intersections. You have trouble moving your foot from the gas to the brake pedal or turning the steering wheel. You can’t raise your arms above your shoulders. You walk less than one block a day.
  3. Decreased reaction time. You feel overwhelmed by all the signs, signals, road markings, pedestrians and vehicles that you must pay attention to at intersections. Gaps in traffic are harder to judge. You take medications that make you sleepy. You aren’t confident that you can handle the demands of high speeds or heavy traffic.
  4. Cautions from others. A family member of friend has expressed concern about your driving. You’ve been pulled over by a police officer and warned about your poor driving. You’ve had a moving violation, near miss or actual crash in the last three years. A health provider has advised you to restrict driving.

Of course there comes a time that most of us understand when we need to hang up those keys and surrender our car.  Until that time comes, there are several online resources for mature drivers that may help you assess your driving ability, as well as help you locate local refresher courses and professional driving assessments.

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