If you’re not an old person, there are plenty of jokes to be made about their driving. True, some residents of Van Nuys and elsewhere, including some of those receiving in home care, might be offended at your lack of respect to your elders, but it’s fairly likely that some might share in the laughter and agree that some seniors do drive poorly.
Don’t worry — employees of Accredited Home Care won’t join in, although we do encourage seniors concerned about their driving abilities to look for ways to stay safer. This could mean taking special driving classes, especially for seniors, looking for tools to be safer behind the wheel such as bigger mirrors or newer better optical prescriptions. Or, in some cases, it might be an opportunity to look for other options to get around town and leave the driving to others.
All joking aside, there are actually some factors that can serve to create the perception or reinforce the stereotype that older drivers are bad drivers by nature.
The National Institute on Aging says there are a variety of physical and mental health factors that can affect driving performance.
This can include weaker hands and arm muscles, which make it harder to use the steering wheel; declining eyesight, which makes it more difficult to see signs or navigate in poor light; mental problems such as dementia, which may affect decision-making or remembering rules of the road; a variety of medications that could slow reaction time; or weaker hearing, which could make it difficult to hear important noises on the road, such as honks or sirens.
Interestingly, older drivers aren’t necessarily even the worst drivers though that stereotype exists. They just have different physical or mental factors that can cause a higher risk of serious injury or death than other age groups.
However, other age groups, such as 20-30, have high rates of injury, often because they may be driving for longer periods of time but have less experience.
According to the U.S. Census, the highest group of licensed drivers having accidents was age 35-44 (22.5 percent), followed by 25-34 (20.1 percent), and 45-54, which is 18.1 percent. Age 55-64 had 11.5 percent, followed by 65-74 which only had 8.5 percent.
Winter is a good opportunity to give a second thought to one’s driving abilities. Icy and wet road conditions can be challenging for even the best driver, and there is also less daylight which can difficult for those who have a tricky time driving in darkness.
Older Driver Safety Awareness Week, which ran Dec. 3-7 was designed to let people know about the value of transportation to seniors, especially in terms of the independence it provides. Though some may begin to worry about the possible diminishing of their abilities behind the wheel, they also don’t want to give up this freedom without a strong reason.
The American Occupational Therapy Association is one of the promoters of this week and invites people to share their thoughts then or anytime about matters like driving, including how they are able to stay focused on the mechanics of driving and how to be prepared when roadway conditions or traffic changes.
Seniors interested in boosting their driving skills and staying safe can try these strategies:
- Take a class. The American Automobile Association and AARP offer a variety of driving classes around the country, including some especially intended for seniors. These go over basic driving tips but also focus on teaching students how to be more defensive and anticipate possible dangerous situations. They also can cover driving in different conditions, such as ice. These organizations also offer supplemental reading materials and brochures.
- Talk to your provider. Ask about your driving suitability at about every annual visit or other routine appointments. He or she may offer specific recommendations for you and your mental and physical health, rather than general people your age or condition. They also may offer some suggestions to help your abilities.
- Visit your Department of Motor Vehicles. Your state might have certain requirements or recommendations for the maximum age to hold a license. Some states may ask people over a certain age to get their license renewed more frequently, such as a year period instead of five years like younger citizens.
- Plan your route. Instead of following favorite directions to the store, restaurant or other appointments, figure out the best way to get there in a path that avoids heavy traffic, pedestrians, noise or other distractions.
- Talk to the family. They may want to help, such as taking you places in poor weather or driving conditions but still generally trying to respect and recognize your freedom. Family members also would be able to provide honest assessments of your abilities behind the wheel.
Whether you’re beginning to have doubts about your driving abilities or are considering this point in future, the team at Accredited Home Care can assist make sense of everything.