Senior Driver Safety: Skills And Strategies

There’s no substitute for the decades of behind-the-wheel experience accrued by senior drivers, but with age come physical changes. Below are some common aging issues and strategies to address them.

Vision


As we age, the amount of light entering the eye decreases. A 45-year-old requires four times as much light as a 19-year-old, and a 60-year-old requires 10 times as much.

The ability to change focus declines. Younger eyes need only about two seconds to adjust from near to far, while eyes over age 40 take three seconds. The higher the age, the more adjustment lag.

Sensitivity to glare intensifies. Compared to a 16-year-old, a 55-year-old takes eight times longer to recover from glare.

Colors become harder to see, especially red. Detecting the flash of brake lights can take twice as long. Peripheral vision narrows. And depth perception decreases, affecting the ability to judge how fast other cars are moving.

Helpful strategies include:


    • Have regular eye exams to correct or slow the progress of eye problems.
    • Limit driving to daytime hours if you have problems with night vision or glare.
    • Turn your head frequently to compensate for diminished peripheral vision.
    • Keep headlights, mirrors and windshields (including the glass inside the car) clean.
    • Add a larger rearview mirror.

Hearing

Hearing loss is especially dangerous when driving, as high-pitched tones, such as sirens, and sounds among background noise, such as horns, are often the first tones we lose.

Helpful strategies include:

    • Have your hearing checked and wear corrective devices if prescribed.
    • Turn off the radio while driving.


Fitness


A driver who goes without physical exercise may not have the strength, flexibility and coordination to operate a vehicle safely.

Weaker muscles, reduced flexibility and a more limited range of motion can all affect the ability to turn the steering wheel, press the brake or open doors and windows. Arthritis can make driving especially difficult.

Helpful strategies include:

    • Take walks or do other exercise on a regular basis to stay strong.
    • Talk to your doctor if arthritis or a limited range of motion affects your driving. Ask if a medication, brace or other accommodation could help.


Medications


Many medications can cause drowsiness, sap energy and slow reaction time.

Helpful strategies include:

    • Discuss your medication, its effects and interactions between medications with your doctor or pharmacist. 
    • Never drive if medication makes you feel sleepy or disoriented.


Brain Power

Age lengthens the time it takes the brain to process information and makes it harder to ignore distractions. 

Helpful strategies include:

    • Incorporate mind-stimulating activities to keep mental acuity sharp.
    • Plan to drive at the time of day your brain is most alert.


How GMC Can Help


Gwinnett Medical Center offers AARP’s Driver Safety Program, which teaches people of all ages current traffic rules, defensive driving techniques and other safety skills. For more information, call 678-312-5000 or visit gwinnettmedicalcenter.org/classes.

People over age 50 are invited to join GMC's PrimeTime Health program. This free membership provides a network of free, discounted and low-cost services for community members, including fitness classes.

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