As we get older, it’s important to keep tabs on our overall well being and driving abilities, as well as the adjustments we can make to ensure we’re both comfortable and safe on the road. Motor vehicle accidents have been found to take a larger toll on our bodies in old age and can sometimes affect us to a degree where we’re no longer able to drive, and we become dependent on others to get us around.
Here are a few driving tips for seniors so they can stay safe on the road and transition into driving retirement easily!
Fitness to Drive
Physical fitness and capability can impact your potential to safely drive, so paying attention to your mobility and fitness is an important start to any drive. Try and incorporate back, neck, and shoulder stretches into your daily activities to improve your body’s flexibility, which can make it easier to look around and make observation checks. You should also schedule regular appointments to have eyesight and hearing tested, and always wear any medical devices (such as glasses and hearing aids) that are prescribed to make your life both easier and safer.
Mental fitness is just as important as physical fitness. If you’re feeling frustrated, upset, or extremely anxious, be honest about your emotional well-being and consider taking the time to reset before getting behind the wheel. This is an important tip, not just for seniors, but any driver on the road. As drivers gain experience behind the wheel, they can forget to make a mental fitness check before they drive but it should be done with every trip!
In addition to your own fitness, your vehicle should be primed and ready to go as well! Be sure to bring your vehicle in for regular maintenance and service checks and, instead of trying to remember the schedule by heart, mark maintenance dates and times into a calendar that you use often to keep up with oil and fluid changes, brake pad needs, battery needs, tires, etc.
Other than regular visits to the mechanic, there are small interior adjustments you can make that will result in a more comfortable driving experience. You can adjust the sun visor to keep the sun out of your eyes during the day and protect you from glare at night, and if the built-in visor is inadequate you can even get visor extenders. Most vehicles also offer a variety of seat and headrest options, and changing how your seat and headrest are adjusted can make a significant difference in how well you can see and maneuver, as well as increasing your comfort. Added lumbar support, like a back pillow or extra cushioning, or increased accessibility functions, like an extra support handle, are available if you need more options than what your vehicle offers.
Driving conditions play a significant role in everybody’s on-road experience, and when we’re aware of the different conditions before we drive, it makes for a safer and more comfortable ride. The first driving condition to be concerned about is the driver condition - you. You should know your driving limits: like your comfort level with traffic and varying times of day. If you struggle with heavier and fast-moving traffic, consider alternative routes, and if you struggle with driving early in the morning or late at night, make arrangements to drive during other hours. Keep rush hour times in mind, like when schools let out or people are going to and returning from work, and try to plan around them so that you can enjoy less congested roads.
Another driving condition to consider before hitting the road is the weather and road conditions. Driving while it’s raining or snowing, or while the roads are slippery, does have an increased chance of incidents so it may be best to avoid driving during inclement conditions.
It’s important to take an honest approach when it comes to your mental and physical wellbeing, and booking a formal driving evaluation will help you and your loved ones in determining if your age or an underlying medical condition might be affecting your ability to be on the road safely. You can voluntarily sign up for one or you may be required to go through an evaluation process with RoadSafetyBC or ICBC.
These evaluations are often conducted in two parts, with the first part including an occupational therapist’s assessment of your vision, perceptual and cognitive abilities, and arm/leg strength. During this, the occupational therapist can also make some recommendations for some of the adaptive driving equipment if needed.
The second part will be the road evaluation where your physical ability and endurance, cognitive/behavioural skills, visual/perceptual skills, and responses to your traffic environment are considered. Once all of these factors are considered, the occupational therapist and driving instructor will evaluate the results and give you feedback on your areas of strengths, limitations, and driving potential.
Consider refreshing your skillset with a driving class or two. These can help you get reacquainted with road rules, give you various driving tips, and can also provide insight into when driving may no longer be safe for you. Many seniors just need a few on-road sessions as refreshers before they feel comfortable and confident again, and many schools have driving instructors that are well-versed in helping seniors specifically. Check in with friends or family members to see if they have a recommendation, or read through ICBC’s list of recommended driving schools!
Retiring Your Licence
Sometimes this can come as a difficult decision, however, sometimes you may find that you no longer feel safe, comfortable, or even enjoy driving like you used to. Either way, you should start considering a life without your vehicle well before the effects of aging start to impact your driving. That way, when the time comes, you will be prepared and ready to embrace another chapter in your life.
Look at the public transit system in your area, or if you live in a small community, consider taxis and car hire services like Lyft, volunteer drivers, or ridesharing with friends and family to run your errands. Some communities have ridesharing or shuttle options designated for seniors. Ask around to see what alternative solutions are available to you!
Aging can come with some ups and downs, but continuing to drive or making the decision to retire your licence doesn’t need to be a negative experience! If you continue to drive, make sure that you are a safe and responsible driver by refining your skills and staying aware of your physical and mental fitness. If you decide to retire your licence, research your other options for getting around so you can continue to have your independence and mobility.