Driving is a big part of most people’s lives. As sad as it may be, age sometimes robs us of the pleasure of driving. If you’re interested in keeping yourself or a loved one behind the wheel longer, then this is the article for you. On the other hand, if you suspect that it may be time for a loved one may be past their ability to drive, we can help you find out for sure.
As Americans, driving can be considered an almost universal freedom. Even if we don’t own our own car, most adults have driven at one point or another, and understand how liberating it can be. Having the ability to be where you want, control your own time or even proceed back and forth between work and home freely, is an incredible freedom.
One we’re all prone to taking for granted, until age starts to take it away from us.
Many of our readers in one way or another are affected by age related driving challenges, so we’ve put together this guide so that you can:
How to maintain Safety and extent Driving years as long as possible
Know when it’s 100% necessary to stop
Without further ado, let’s dig in and learn how you can get the most out of your driving lifetime.
Stay Safe as You Drive
As kids, we dream of the day we become old enough to drive. We crave the sense of freedom that we get from being behind a wheel. As adults, driving loses much of its lustre and in the case of some unfortunate few- becomes a burden.
Rush hour traffic, obnoxious drivers, getting cut off. It all seems like more stress than fun most of the time.
As we enter our golden years however, we tend to rediscover the beauty and magic of driving. As we begin losing our freedom to declining mobility, driving regains some of the magic it had for us as teens. Regardless of our rekindled love for driving however, time stops for no one and eventually the day likely comes where we must pass the keys on to someone else.
Luckily, for most of you reading this article, that day is still a decent way off, so here are some ways to make sure it stays that way. As you’ll see, maintaining good health is the best way to prolong your driving years.
Let’s dive into the first step.
Annual Eye Exams
Eye health is the number one concern when it comes to elderly drivers. These profoundly sophisticated organs are a lot like luxury watches. They have a number of tiny pieces and it’s hard to keep them all in perfect shape.
Good eyesight this year, may not stay the same by the next and the worst part is, it may be difficult for us to detect a change in our ability to see. Many people don’t realise they need help with their eyesight until they start getting headaches, get double vision or worse- hit something while driving.
As such, it’s incredibly important for older drivers to get annual check-ups, to ensure that their eyes meet the minimum requirements for safe driving. This is made even more important by the fact that by the time we enter our golden years, our reflexes have slowed and most of us have lost a lot of muscle tone. Things that are critical to making quick emergency manoeuvres.
This makes our eyesight even more critical.
If we are to avoid an accident, we need to rely heavily on our driving experience and excellent judgement. Both of which require serviceable eyesight to be reliable.
If you haven’t gotten your eyes checked recently, here’s a few steps to start getting that handled:
- Search Google Chrome for a local specialist by typing any of these search strings into the search bar: “Local Ophthalmologist”, “eye exam in insert your area or city here” or Get eyes tested in insert your are or city here”
- Once you’ve found some candidates, choose according to the best price and location
- Same clinics offer a variety of deals and scheduling opportunities so feel free to explore what works best for you
Once you’ve gotten checked out by a professional, there are a few practical steps that you can take to ensure your eyes remain as healthy as possible. You may be familiar with some of these steps already, but it never hurts to have a reminder.
- Avoid or Stop Smoking
- Wear Sunglasses
- Eat Healthy Foods- Increase Omega Fatty Acids, Carrots, Fruits and Vegetables such as Spinach, Kale or Collard Greens
- Maintain a Healthy Body weight
For a more detailed exploration of this subject, check out this article by the National eye Institute.
Annual Hearing Exams
Good hearing takes a close second place to eyesight when it comes to importance in driving.
The solemn fact is, that eyesight doesn’t necessarily give us all the information we need to drive safely. As diligent as most of us are, cars can sometimes drift into blind spots or make hasty and unsafe decisions, at which point, being able to hear a blaring horn clearly- could prevent an accident.
To ensure that your hearing is always up to the task, be sure to have your hearing regularly assessed. Declining hearing, much like declining sight, is treatable up to a critical point. So don’t be distressed if you find out your hearing is on the decline.
Your specialist may have a number of ways to keep your hearing good enough to continue driving safely for several years.
Here’s how you can get your hearing checked out if you haven’t yet:
- Search google for a local test centre by entering: “Hearing Test in insert your city or are here”
- Find a clinic or doctor that suits your timing needs and cost
Again, getting assessed or treated professionally is only half the equation. Every good doctor always recommends solid lifestyle adjustments to ensure that any condition is properly handled. In the off chance that your doctor hasn’t made recommendations to you, here are a few solid principles for maintaining your hearing:
- Use earplugs around loud noises (construction, loud music, loud engines etc)
- Lower the Volume you use in headphones
- Stop using Cotton Swabs
- Take breaks after prolonged headphone use
For more on keeping your ears healthy, click here.
3. Workout to maintain physical health
As we’ve already mentioned, physical strength is a very important aspect of driving. It’s very easy to underestimate the role it plays, especially while we’re still healthy and have the help of power steering. However, even the comparatively small amount of force it takes to turn a wheel, can be a problem for those who fail to maintain their strength.
Even among body builders, the shoulders are among the stubbornest muscles when it comes to gaining and maintaining strength. These muscles are also among the most crucial when it comes to proper steering.
On the other end of the driving spectrum, healthy calves, legs, hips and thighs are also important for maintaining the ability to drive freely. If you’re someone who struggles to move freely up and down stairs for example, driving may be out of the question for you.
To ensure that you’re always in driving shape, here are a few simple options:
Take up Gardening- gardening is often underappreciated for the fitness it builds
Find a local Yoga Class with a quick Google Search
Click here for a sample workout routine by Healthline.com. They have designed a workout plan specifically for seniors.
If none of these options interest you, try taking a simple, 10-minute walk around your area shortly after waking up. 10 minutes of cardio can do wonders to develop your basic fitness and keep you driving for a long time.
Regular exercise will cause your body to preserve muscle mass as you get older, instead of dropping it. You’ll also maintain good muscle tone and coordination, further bolstering your ability to drive.
4. Make Sure to Get Your Beauty Sleep
Statistically, driving while tired is just as dangerous as driving while under the influence. In 2013 alone, drowsy driving was responsible for over 72,000 crashes according to the Centre for Disease Control. Following the theme of things being older as we age- yes, Drowsy driving becomes even more dangerous as we age.
Putting aside falling asleep at the wheel, drowsiness shifts our state of mind away from lucidity and awareness and into sluggishness and relaxation. Even being slightly tired can impair your decision making, drastically increasing the chances of an accident.
If you drive while tired, not only do you have to fight against slowing reaction times and lower muscle control, but now you have to do it while tired. Not a pretty picture.
To ensure that you don’t get caught driving tired, here are a few tips on how to get better sleep more consistently:
Clean Up your Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene refers to the habits we have surrounding bedtime and our approach to it. Just like washing our hands before we eat, the activities we engage in before bed can be healthy or unhealthy- hence “hygiene”. For example, if you are in the habit of drinking coffee before bed or working in bed before you fall asleep, this could be compromising both the quality and amount of sleep you’re getting.
Ideally, you should be using your bed ONLY for sleeping or, shall we say, “romantic” activities. Sticking to this guideline alone could mean the difference between countless nights of tossing and turning and sleeping like a baby nightly.
Unfortunately for some this means:
- No more binge-watching Netflix in bed- do it on the couch
- No more TV in bed
- No more working in bed
- No more anything except sleeping and getting naughty
By improving your sleep hygiene, you condition your body to fall asleep faster. Activities like work, intense TV shows and drinking caffeine all keep your brain functioning on high alert- which isn’t conducive to falling asleep.
You can check out this article for more on sleep hygiene:
Blue light blockers
Our brains function on what’s called a “Circadian rhythm”.
In short, this is a 24- hour cycle, governed by a few powerful hormones produced by a specific gland in our brain known as the Pineal gland. Normally, our Pineal glands receive special signals from cells in our retina that are constantly assessing the position of the sun. These signals trigger the release of the hormone Melatonin as the sun goes down, making us fall asleep and rest until the sun is up once more.
This is where things get sticky.
The frequency of light that our brains use to judge the position of the sun, is commonly referred to as “blue light”. We would all get much better sleep if the sun was the single source of blue light in our worlds. Fortunately, or unfortunately, we have millions of other sources.
Most notoriously, cell phones, computer screens, tablets and their cousins all produce significant amounts of “blue light.” As you can probably guess, these additional sources of blue light, often trick our brains into falling asleep far later than would be ideal.
Additional blue light sources also skew our sleep cycles, giving us less time in the critical restorative phases of sleep that help us feel rested, restore muscle mass and keep our brains healthy.
So- no more screens after 6 pm.
I’m kidding. Ideally, you would do your best to avoid digital screens after the sun goes down, but if you’re like me and enjoy watching your favourite shows to wind down, then try installing a blue light blocker such as f.lux, which we’ve linked to here.
This app is completely free and matches the tones in your screen to reflect the position of the sun in your area. It’s 100% automatic, so you don’t have to stress over settings. You’ll still be able to enjoy all of your favourite shows, without the negative effects of blue light on your sleep cycle.
If f.lux doesn’t work for you, there are countless other blue light blockers that are just a google search away. Simply enter “blue light blocking app” into your browser search bar and away you go!
Exercise in the Morning
We’ve already mentioned exercise a few times in this blog, so by now, you should understand intimately just how many ways exercise can benefit you. As it turns out, exercise in the morning can also help you sleep better.
In his #1 Best-Selling book, Sleep Smarter, Shawn Stephenson explains that counter to our normal Melatonin cycle, which helps us fall asleep, we have a Cortisol cycle which helps us remain alert. Cortisol is one of our stress hormones and typically we get a rush of it shortly after waking up that helps us “exit” that groggy feeling and feel more lucid.
Commonly, our Cortisol cycles get messed up by a variety of common issues and so, a minimum of 10 minutes cardio in the morning can help reset this critical system. Allowing us to sleep more effectively come evening time.
5. Brush Up on Your Defensive Driving
Once you’ve got your health handled and can be sure that you are physically capable of handling your car, it’s probably a good time to brush up on your Defensive Driving skills. If you’re not familiar with Defensive driving, don’t worry, we’ll give you a crash course to get you started.
Defensive driving is school of thought that goes beyond the ability to steer your vehicle between the lines. Defensive driving focuses on giving drivers the tools to be safe on the road at all times, whether going 60 mph on the freeway, or heading to your local Whole Foods to stock up on cereal.
We strongly advise that you find a local Defensive Driving course where possible, nothing beats learning the principles in person. You can do so by:
- Entering “Defensive Driving in my Area” into your Google Search Bar
- Choosing the course that best suits your needs
While you get started searching for your new defensive driving, allow us to introduce you to some of the more helpful core principles.
We’ve all experienced the sensation of going on “Auto Pilot” while driving. Sometimes we suddenly come back to our senses and sit up in our seats, other times the song we were singing ends and we remember to put our full attention on the road.
If that’s happened to you- don’t worry- it just means your brain is healthy.
Driving- like riding a bike- is meant to eventually become a subconscious program. If we were to spend all our time thinking about every detail involved in driving, we’d probably have more accidents than we already do.
As convenient as our autopilot function is at times, giving in to it habitually isn’t the best idea. We tend to get pulled into patterns on the road and are more likely to fall victim to a sudden shift in traffic.
Defensive driving encourages drivers, to continually ask questions to themselves about the road. For example:
- Am I near a traffic light or intersection?
- Is this a pedestrian zone?
- Is there a bike lane nearby?
- What’s the speed limit?
- Is anyone indicating or waiting on a dross light?
Asking questions like this helps our brains gather information that could be critical for avoiding any danger on the road. It also keeps us out of autopilot and fully engaged with the task at hand.
The 3 Second Rule
Most often, the greatest threat to us on the road, is the car directly in front of us. Or, more accurately, the distance between us and the car in front of us. The three second rule is a tool we can use to ensure that we’re always spaced appropriately from the car infront of us.
In a nutshell, we want to ensure that we’re always at least 3 seconds behind the car directly in front of us. In most cases, this gives us enough time to react in the event that this car suddenly brakes or is halted by the car ahead of it.
One easy way to use this rule, is to wait for the car ahead of you, to cross something easy to identify, like a lamppost. As soon as the car crosses, count 3 seconds as best as you can. (“One One thousand” works here quite well.)
If you manage to count three seconds and your vehicle crosses the line in time or just after 3 seconds- you’re following the rule. If you cross the same marker before 3 seconds have passed, then you need to slow down and try once more.
Having 3 seconds of space- at least- between you and the car in front of you at all times, ensures that you’ll always have enough time to react, brake and come to a complete stop before any collision. If the road is wet, sandy, gravelly or otherwise compromised, ensure that you increase the gap by one or two more seconds for safety’s sake.
Check out this 1-minute video here for a slightly more detailed explanation.
Eliminate All Distractions
Being completely undistracted at all times is probably an unrealistic goal to set, but it is still a worthy one. Events unfold within seconds or less while driving- even at moderate speeds. That being said, it only takes a moment of distraction for you to miss your chance to avoid a collision.
Identifying distractions is typically easy, but distractions can be more subtle than you think.
The easy ones are things such as:
- Cell phones
- Unsecured pets
The less obvious distractions are:
- Adjusting the thermostat
- Looking down at your GPS
- Emotional Conversations with Passengers
Adjusting Wing and rear-view mirrors
To eliminate as many of these distractions as possible before a journey, follow these steps:
Set your thermostat to a comfortable temperate. Try using the “auto” function if your car has one, that way your AC will turn off if it gets too cold and turn back on when the temperature starts increasing.
- Make sure your mirrors are lined up- BEFORE you start the engine
- Turn your phone on silent
- Have your car assessed annually so your dashboard lights don’t suddenly turn on
- Use the voice function on your GPS so you can keep your eyes on the road
- Use Bluetooth headsets or speakers to take calls if you MUST- but it’s always better to simply not take them while driving.
- Don’t eat and drive
- Finally, assess your own driving situation and habits, assess the things that can be considered distractions and come up with solutions to avoid them while driving.
Now that we’ve covered the various ways that you can ensure your own and the safety of others while driving, let’s take a look at some signs you cannot ignore. If you see one or more of these in a relative of yours- old or young, it’s best you have a conversation with them about avoiding future driving.
Warning Signs You Cannot Ignore
1. One too Many Close Calls
To start off our list, we’ll go with one of the more critical and common signs of a diminishing ability to drive safely- Close Calls. These calls don’t necessarily need to be “near-death experiences”. They can be things as simple as scarping the side of your car in the driveway, rear ending a driver in front of you, barely missing the appropriate lights, even something like driving into an exit or out of an entrance because of a failure to recognise the signs.
One or two of these things happen to all of us from time to time and only you or those close to you will be able to know what your “normal” frequency is. However, if you’re experiencing one or more of these things within a two-week window, it may be time to seriously consider giving up the keys.
2. Increased Tickets
If you’re accustomed to driving without intervention from law enforcement, a sudden increase in the number of citations you’re getting could be an indication that your judgement is beginning to wane. You may be tempted to dismiss simple tickets like parking citations as minor, but if they’re happening regularly they need to be seriously considered.
Citations for things like speeding, dangerous driving or driving the wrong way down a one-way street are to be considered far more seriously. If you or someone you love is unable to obey the basic rules of the road, then their safety and the safety of others on the road could be at risk.
3. Eyesight or hearing problems
As mentioned earlier, your senses are your most valuable asset when it comes to driving. Unfortunately, in some cases, despite our best efforts these senses fade to the point that we no longer receive enough of the input necessary to make good decisions while driving.
You would think that someone with a serious inability to see would automatically give up the keys, however many people continue on until something dangerous occurs. This behaviour doesn’t always come from pride or stubbornness but often, it comes form ignorance.
People who fail to get their eyes or ears assessed on a regular basis, sometimes simply fail to realise their own limits before something happens. Beyond a certain point, it can become difficult to assess just how much worse or better our senses are functioning.
Don’t allow your loved ones to drive if you suspect they aren’t seeing or hearing well.
4. Lapses in memory
Sometimes, it is not our senses, but our abilities to handle them that become compromised. Lapses in memory can range from simply forgetting the appropriate street name or the address we’re supposed to be finding up to not remembering the way home.
It’s grim to consider- and sometimes even harder to bring up in conversation.
However, a hard conversation can spare you and your loved one stress and even serious heartache. If you have been noticing lapses in memory such as the ones listed below, it’s time to have a talk about no more driving, but also potentially time to seek professional help.
- Asking the same question repeatedly
- Taking longer to complete familiar tasks
- Inappropriately storing items- like putting a wallet in the fridge or kitchen drawer
- Getting lost while walking
- Sudden and unexplained changes in mood
You can see more on these changes in this article by the Mayoclinic.
Of course, these symptoms do not always mean the worst, but it’s best for everyone to get ahead of them while you can.
One last thing- these conversations can be difficult- to say the least. If you need help figuring out how to go about them- please read our article on “Having the talk” here (INSERT HYPERLINK).
That wraps up our guide on Safe driving. We hope you learned something valuable from it and take action to keep yourself or your loved ones safe.
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