You can stay as safe as ever on the road

As you buckle yourself into a two-ton metal machine and rocket down the road at 60 miles per hour or faster, you may ask yourself, “Am I as safe a driver as I used to be?” This can be a legitimate concern even if you’re in robust health and still a long way from being a senior. For instance, you may no longer be able to turn your head far enough to look behind you.

Safety concerns become increasingly relevant as the years pass.

Consider: Compared with drivers age 55 to 64, those over the age of 65 are almost twice as likely to die in a car crash… drivers age 80 and older have higher crash-fatality rates than all other age groups except teens.

Aging affects driving ability in several vital ways…

  • Vision and hearing become less acute.
  • Cognition slows, impairing the ability to recognize and react appropriately to a hazard (such as a child dashing into the street).
  • The physical ability to operate a car may be impaired by stiff joints, muscle pain, nerve damage and other maladies.Advancing age also brings increased frailty. This means that, even if driving skills remain sharp, the ability to recover from accidents decreases.The modern world also presents hazards that older drivers may not be accustomed to. More than ever, drivers around you are likely to be distracted by cell-phone calls, text messages and GPS devices. These distractions greatly increase the risk for accidents.

NEW RULES OF THE ROAD

Avoid dangerous situations…

  • Use routes that minimize left turns — they are more dangerous than right turns. When waiting to turn left, keep your wheels straight so you won’t be pushed into oncoming traffic if hit from behind.
  • On the highway, stay in the right lane whenever possible. There’s less risk of being tailgated, and you probably won’t need to change lanes to exit.
  • Minimize travel on congested or poorly lit roads.
  • Do not drive in rain or snow or when you feel tired or stressed. Stay home or call a taxi.

See and be seen…

  • To determine if you’re tailgating, pick a spot that the car in front of you passes, then count the seconds until you reach that spot. If it’s less than three seconds — or six seconds in rain or fog — back off.
  • Use your window defroster on high heat to clear window fog quickly… then switch to cool air (not cold) to keep fog from coming back. This works in all weather.Keep your windows clean inside and outside.
  • Be on the watch for distracted drivers. Stay focused yourself, too — don’t talk on the phone or eat or fiddle with the CD player or have emotional conversations with your passengers.
  • Keep headlights on, even during the day — it makes you more visible to others. Clean headlights often.
  • If you have poor night vision, drive only in daylight.

Master new car technology…

  • Put your seat as far back as you comfortably can to avoid being injured by the air bag if it deploys.
  • Tilt the steering wheel so that the air bag points toward your chest, not your head. If your steering wheel telescopes, move it closer to the dashboard to lessen air bag impact.
  • If you skid, do not “pump” anti-lock brakes — just brake steadily.

HEALTH CHECKS

Work with a health-care team…

  • Ask your doctor if any of the medications you take can cause drowsiness or light-headedness. If you start a new drug, avoid driving for a few days until you see how it affects you.
  • Have your vision checked every year or two.
  • Get a hearing test every three years. If you have hearing loss, watch dashboard indicators because you may not notice strange engine noises.Also: Be vigilant about watching for emergency vehicles.

SHOULD YOU TAKE A CLASS?

The more of the following factors that apply to you, the more advisable it is to take a refresher course in driving. Take it as a clue if you…

  • Often are honked at by other drivers.
  • Sometimes have trouble staying in your lane.
  • Occasionally think that vehicles or pedestrians have appeared out of nowhere.
  • Caused a recent accident.

Many insurance companies offer discounts to drivers who pass a refresher course. Contact your insurance agent for more information.

Some classes can be completed in one or two days… some you do at your own pace. Bonus: Classes review your state’s laws, which may have changed — for example, many older drivers are unaware of certain states’ requirements to signal at least 100 feet before turning.

Refresher courses are given online and in classroom settings. A course that includes several hours of behind-the-wheel training is most beneficial, though this can add significantly to the cost. For schedules and pricing, contact AARP, or your local AAA club.

PUTTING DOWN THE KEYS

It’s time to consider leaving the driving to others if you have taken a refresher course and yet still experience any of the following…

  • Often feel lost or confused on familiar roads.
  • Occasionally hit the gas when you mean to hit the brake.
  • Hear that other people worry about your driving or are scared to ride with you.
  • Have been advised by your doctor to stop driving.

If you stop driving…

  • Find out about public transportation options, including discounted fares for seniors.
  • For referrals to civic groups that provide rides, contact your local council on aging.
  • Ask nearby friends for rides (and offer to pay for gas). Many people are happy to help out.