Baby, You Can Drive My Car

Getting older often means accepting that you can’t do all the things you did when you were younger, or that you can’t do them quite as well as before.

But some changes are easier to accept than others. Perhaps one of the toughest limitations people face as they age is the loss of independence. Whether it’s a decrease in physical mobility or finding that driving has become more challenging, it’s just not easy to acknowledge that the time may have come to depend upon others for something as basic as the ability to come and go as you please.

Yet your safety — and the safety of others with whom you come into contact — may depend upon it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the risk of being injured or killed in a motor vehicle crash increases with age. In 2014, more than 5,700 adults ages 65 and older were killed and more than 236,000 were treated in emergency rooms for injuries sustained during motor vehicle crashes.

But as the population grays, the number of older drivers is on the rise. In 2015, there were more than 40 million licensed older adults on the road, which is a 50-percent increase from 1999.

Of course, many older drivers are perfectly fine behind the wheel. With more experience than younger drivers and less need to be on the road if they’re no longer commuting to work, many may find they’re safer than ever. Others, however, may begin to experience health issues — such as vision and hearing loss, dementia or slower reaction times and reflexes — that make driving dangerous.

Avoiding Danger on the Road
There are steps you can take to increase your safety, regardless of your age. For example, the National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Aging (NIH/NIA) suggests that if your reaction times seem slower, you should leave more space between your car and the one in front of you, giving you a greater distance in which to slow down should you need to stop suddenly. The agency also suggests that you start braking earlier and avoid heavy traffic whenever possible.

Medications can also affect your driving ability. The NIH warns against driving when feeling lightheaded or drowsy and advises reading all medication labels carefully for warnings related to driving. Your pharmacist is happy to answer questions about medications and safe driving. If night vision has become a problem, consider limiting your driving to daylight hours.

It may also be helpful to take a defensive driving course to freshen up skills. Some insurance companies will also lower your rates if you pass such a class.

Time to Assess
So how do you know if it’s time to give up your license and ask for a ride?

The NIH suggests asking yourself the questions that follow to help determine if it’s time to let someone else take the wheel.

* Do other drivers often honk at me?

* Have I been having accidents, even if they are “fender benders?”

* Do I get lost, even on roads I know?

* Do other cars or people walking seem to appear out of nowhere?

* Do I get distracted while driving?

* Are family and friends worried about my driving?

* Do I have trouble staying in my lane?

* Do I have trouble moving my foot from the gas to the brake pedal? Do I ever confuse the two?

* Do I drive less because I’m feeling unsure on the road?

* Have I been pulled over by a police officer because of my driving?

If you’ve answered yes to one or more of these questions, consider having a talk with your healthcare provider or taking a driving assessment to see if you’re still safe behind the wheel.