Spring 2016 | cbservices.org

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Safety Tips for Mature Drivers

People aged 65 and older are commonly referred to as mature drivers.  As these drivers age, they begin to undergo physical changes.  These changes often include decreased vision, attention and physical abilities, which can be hazardous to their driving skills and create unsafe situations.  Despite these changing physical characteristics that are a normal part of aging, mature adults can still be safe drivers.  Driving a motor vehicle with care, taking care of the motor vehicle and knowing how to find a ride in the event you are unable to drive a motor vehicle are steps that can be taken to ensure your safety on the road and protect the well-being of others.

Taking Care of Your Health
Driving safely begins with taking care of your health.  Maintaining a healthy diet, exercising to stay physically fit, refraining from having more than one alcoholic drink per day, and quitting the use of tobacco products are all essential to sustaining a healthy body.  Never drink alcohol before or while driving, avoid driving while angry, upset, sleepy or ill and do not use your cell phone while driving. 

Annual physicals and eye exams are important to ensure that you are physically capable of operating a motor vehicle.  If your eyesight is poor, avoid driving at night or during storms.  If you are taking prescription medication, ask your doctor or pharmacist about any side effects the medication may have as well as if it is conducive to operating a vehicle.  There are many medications that can affect driving even though you may feel fine.  If your medication makes you feel dizzy or drowsy, talk to your doctor to find ways to take the medication so that it doesn’t affect your driving.

Pre-Trip Driving Plan
A pre-trip plan is important to safely arriving at your destination.  Plan out trips ahead of time and decide what time to leave and which roads to take prior to leaving.  Try to avoid heavy traffic, poor weather conditions and high speed areas.  In addition, complete a pre-trip inspection of the vehicle.  Items to check include having plenty of gas in the vehicle, keeping windshields and mirrors clean and replacing wiper blades when they are worn out.  Check tire pressure, oil and windshield wiper fluids.  Schedule regular maintenance with a mechanic for vehicle tune ups and to have fluids checked, including power steering and transmission fluids.

Use Your Seatbelt and Drive Defensively
The use of seatbelts is very important for mature drivers because of their increased risk of death in crashes.  Nearly one in five mature drivers does not use their seatbelt.  Seatbelts should be worn over the shoulder and across the lap.

Once you are out on the road, always practice the following defensive driving principles:

  • Drive at the posted speed limit for the road.  Driving too fast or too slow is unsafe and should be avoided.
  • Pay attention to traffic at all times and be alert to changing conditions in the environment such as the presence of pedestrians or bicyclists, slow moving vehicles and weather conditions.
  • Maintain enough following distance between you and the vehicle in front of you.
  • Use caution at all intersections.  Use your turn signals and remember to look around for people, bicyclists and other vehicles.
  • When changing lanes or backing up, always check blind spots.
  • Be very careful at train tracks.  Use caution and look both ways for approaching trains.  Follow crossing signals.
  • As mentioned previously, do not use your cell phone while driving and never text while driving.  Some states do not allow the use of cell phones in vehicles at all.  If you must use your cell phone, pull safely over to the side of the road before dialing, answering or text messaging.
  • While driving, do not reach for objects that may be moving inside the vehicle.  Secure these items ahead of time so they do not become lodged underneath the brake or gas pedals.
  • Keep your eyes on the road and do not look too long at events taking place outside or along the road.  This includes viewing billboards, scenic views and vehicle accidents.
  • Avoid backing situations whenever possible.
  • When entering or exiting the vehicle, use the Three-Point Contact Rule.  Entering or exiting a vehicle is the number one cause of slip, trip and fall accidents for drivers.  The Three Point Contact Rule means that three of your four limbs are in contact with the vehicle at all times:  two feet and one hand or two hands and one foot.  Be aware of your surroundings when entering and exiting the vehicle.  Look out for slippery conditions such as rain, puddles, ice, snow and uneven surfaces.
  • If you have trouble making left turns at an intersection, make three right turns instead of one left turn.
  • Avoid driving in inclement weather such as rain, sleet or snow.

Evaluate Your Driving
Recognize the signs of unsafe driving.  Recent near misses or accidents; tickets for moving violations; comments from passengers regarding close calls, near misses or the driver not seeing other vehicles; and increases in car insurance premiums are all signs that it may be time to reconsider whether or not you should be driving.   Talk with your community, family and friends to determine your comfort and skill level with the driving process.  Another resource to consider is having your driving evaluated by a Driver Rehabilitation Specialist.  A Driver Rehabilitation Specialist is a trained professional who can teach you special techniques or suggest special equipment to help you drive safely.

Take a Driver’s Safety Class
Driver’s safety classes are another excellent resource for helping you to continue driving safely.  The instructor of a driver safety class will teach you skills that you can use while driving.  To find a class near you, contact one of the following programs:

  • AARP 55 ALIVE Driver Safety Program:  1.888.227.7669
  • AAA Safe Driving for Mature Operators Program:  Call your local AAA club to find a class near you.
  • National Safety Council Defensive Driving Course:  1.800.621.7619
  • Driving School Association of the Americas, Inc.:  1.800.270.3722

Develop a Transportation Plan
If your vehicle is in the shop or you have determined that you are no longer able to physically drive a vehicle, there are many ways that you can still get around.  Putting together a transportation plan will provide you with a great resource so that you are not limited in getting around.  The transportation plan could include rides from friends and family, the number of your local taxi service, bus or train schedules and contact information for local “senior shuttles.”  Ask your doctor for more information on resources that you can add to this plan.

-Information excerpted from the American Academy of Family Physicians, www.aafp.org, “How to Help the Older Driver” and “Am I a Safe Driver?” bulletins and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Tips for Safe Driving,” http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/olddrive/olderdriversbook/pages/AppndxB-Safe.html.