What can you do to be safer on the road and more comfortable with driving?
The main components to consider for safe driving include vision, reaction time, and mobility. Each of these can be improved with regular maintenance and attention. Here are a few suggestions from Lynda Lambert of AAA and Rita Morrow of AARP:
- Get regular eye exams. “The amount of light needed to drive doubles every 13 years,” Lynda says. AAA recommends eye exams every two years for those aged 60 and younger and every year for those 61 and over.
- Work on your neck mobility. To drive safely, you must be able to look in all directions. Stay flexible by turning your head from side to side periodically through the day.
- Stay alert. “If you look away for even two seconds, you double your chances of an accident,” Lynda says. Keep track of what’s happening in front of, behind, and on both sides of your vehicle. Take note of what’s happening 20-30 seconds down the road.
- Give yourself more time to react. The time we need to process information can be a bit longer as we age. A general rule for all drivers is to maintain a 3-second following distance from the car ahead of you.
- Ease your worries. If you are uncomfortable on highways or bridges, plot your route ahead of time and make adjustments. If left turns make you nervous (they do increase the chances for an accident), make three right turns to avoid that left. In other words, go around the block.
- Stay mentally and physically fit. “Don’t sit down and give up,” Lynda says. AAA advises physical exercise for 20 minutes daily/five days a week. Do something you enjoy like gardening, golf, or tennis. Keep your mind active with crossword puzzles or learning something new.
- Know your medication’s side effects. Prescriptions and supplements can affect you in unexpected ways. Read the fine print and talk with your doctor. If you feel sleepy or disoriented, don’t drive.
- Avoid distractions. Stay off your phone and eliminate the radio if it proves troublesome. Be mindful of children darting in front of traffic to chase a ball or people crossing the street. Even those beautiful grandchildren in the backseat can cause us to take our eyes from the road if we’re not careful.
In addition to these tips, there are several helpful programs to consider:
CarFit is a collaboration among AAA, AARP, and AOTA (American Occupational Therapy Association), where drivers work with trained advisors to assess essentials such as being able to reach for the seatbelt, adjusting mirrors, and maintaining a proper distance of 10 inches away from the steering wheel. “Drivers may be hesitant to attend one of these sessions because they believe the goal is to label them as unfit drivers. The opposite is true. CarFit focuses on helping drivers to stay on the road by making sure their vehicle truly fits their current needs,” Lynda says. Call your local AAA or AARP branch to find locations for an upcoming CarFit event.
AARP’s Driver Safety program operates with either an in-person or online class option. No portion of the class takes place in a car; the focus is primarily on reminders about driving safely and on recent changes that may have taken place in the law or on local roads. Anyone over the age of 55 can take the class, and some insurance companies offer discounts to those drivers who have completed it. (Check with your insurance agent to find out if a discount is available for you.) “People may or may not learn something new from the class, but 97 percent of them say they come away with at least one thing they will change to improve their driving,” Rita says.
By Megan S. Willman