Good driving health begins with good vision. With declining vision, your responses to signals, signs, and changing traffic conditions become slower, increasing your crash risk.
- You have problems reading highway or street signs, or recognizing someone you know across the street.
- You have trouble seeing lane lines and other pavement markings; curb and medians; and other vehicles and pedestrians, especially at dusk or dawn, and at night.
- You are experiencing more discomfort from the glare of oncoming headlights at night.
What You Can Do
- Make sure your corrective lenses have a current prescription, and always wear them. If you lose or break your glasses, don't rely on an old pair; replace them right away with your new prescription.
- Do not wear sunglasses or tinted lenses at night. This reduces the amount of light that reaches your eyes, and makes driving much more hazardous.
- Keep your windshield and headlights clean, and make sure your headlight aim is checked when your vehicle is inspected.
- Sit high enough in your seat so that your can see the road within 10 feet in front of your car. This will make a big difference in reducing the amount of glare you experience from opposing headlights at night. Use a cushion if your car seats don't have vertical adjustment.
- People age 61 and older should see an optometrist or ophthalmologist every year to check for cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and other conditions for which we are at greater risk when we grow older.
Diminished strength, flexibility, and coordination can have a major impact on your ability to control your vehicle in a safe manner.
- You have trouble looking over your shoulder to change lanes, or looking left and right to check traffic at intersections.
- You have trouble moving your foot from the gas to the brake pedal, or turning the steering wheel.
- You have fallen down to the floor or ground – not counting a trip or stumble – one or more times in the previous year.
- You walk less than 1 block per day.
- You can't raise your arms above your shoulders.
- You feel pain in your knees, legs, or ankles when going up or down a flight of stairs (10 steps).
What You Can Do
- See your doctor about any pain or physical fitness issues. Your doctor may have recommendations on a stretching, exercise, or walking program that is right for you.
- Check your local health clubs, senior centers, community colleges, and hospitals for fitness programs geared to the needs of seniors.
- A driving occupational therapist or a certified driver rehabilitation specialist may be able to prescribe special equipment for your car to make it easier to steer and to use your pedals.
- Eliminate your driver's side blind spot by re-aiming your mirrors. First, lean your head against the window, then adjust your mirror outward so that when you look at the inside edge you can barely see the side of your car. If you use a wide-angle mirror, get lots of practice judging distances to other cars before using it in traffic.
Driving often requires quick reactions to safety threats. As we grow older, it becomes more difficult to divide attention and to make rapid responses.
- You feel overwhelmed by all of the signs, signals, markings, pedestrians, and other vehicles that you must pay attention to at intersections.
- Gaps in traffic are harder to judge, making it more difficult to turn left at intersections, or to merge with traffic when turning right.
- You take medications that make you drowsy.
- You often get lost or become disoriented.
- You aren't confident that you can handle the demands of high speeds or heavy traffic volumes.
- You are slower in recognizing cars coming out of driveways or side streets, or realizing that another car has slowed or stopped ahead of you.
What You Can Do
- Plan your route. Drive where you are familiar with the road conditions and traffic patterns.
- Drive during the day, and avoid rush hours.
- When approaching intersections, remember to stay alert for cars and pedestrians entering from the side unexpectedly.
- Leave enough distance between you and the car ahead of you to react to a sudden stop, but understand that too large a gap will invite others to cut in front of you in heavy traffic. A gap of 3 seconds or more is most desirable, conditions permitting. Look for a tree, sign, etc. When the car ahead of you passes this point count "1001, 1002, 1003." If you can count to 1003 by the time you get to the same point, this equals a 3-second gap.
Source: Driving Safely While Aging Gracefully (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)