Safer Driving Tips for the Older Driver

Introduction

The information and images on this page have been taken from a leaflet entitled "Older & Wiser". RoSPA are the authors and copyright holders of the leaflet, and therefore the text and images on this page.

There is no specific age at which drivers start to be less safe on the roads. Experience means that drivers in their fifties generally have a lower risk of having a road accident than other age groups.

However, other factors mean that after the age of 60, the risk increases steadily. Experience means that drivers in their fifties generally have a lower risk of having a road accident than other age groups. However, other factors mean that after the age of 60, the risk increases steadily. By the age of 75, drivers are at least twice as likely to be involved in road accidents compared to when they were in their fifties. This is because many of the skills we need to drive are affected as we get older. Generally, when these changes start at about 55 years old, they are hardly noticeable, but they will continue until they become very obvious as about 75 years of age.

People of all ages often think they drive better than they actually do.  So it is important that when nature begins to tell you to slow down, you recognise that your driving will be affected. The good new is that by changing the way you drive just slightly, you should be able to carry on driving more safely - and enjoying it.

As We Get Older

Although everyone is different, the following changes are likely:

1. Reaction times get slower:

Leaving a bigger safety gap in front of you will give you more time to stop in an emergency. Avoid driving if you are tired or feeling unwell. Remember that alcohol slows your reactions still further and should be avoided altogether when driving. Suitable regular exercise, both mental and physical, can restrict the slowing down effects of ageing.

2. Making decisions takes longer:

The impatience of other road users may cause you to hurry, with the result that you are far more likely to make mistakes. Planning your journeys so that you avoid busy or difficult junctions (particularly right turns) and peak traffic times will help you not feel so rushed. If you find motorway driving stressful, you can avoid it by taking an alternative route. Looking further ahead as you drive may help you see problems before you meet them head on, and you will have more time to plan what you do.

3. Driving is more tiring and more stressful:

Give yourself plenty of time for your journey and allow for regular  breaks if you are travelling a long way. Try to recognise which situations make you feel tense and avoid them. Remember that drowsiness is made worse by alcohol and by some medicines.

4. Eyesight and hearing will not be as sharp:

The weakening of eyesight due to age starts at about 45 years and is usually quite slow. For this reason, people often don't know that their vision isn't as good as it ought to be for safe driving. It is therefore important to have your eyes checked regularly by a qualified optician and to wear any glasses prescribed for you. Try to avoid driving at twilight or in the dark, because as you get older your eyes react much slower to changes in light conditions. In particular, recovery from being dazzled takes much longer.

5. Greater need for medicine or drugs:

Because of health problems, older people take more medicine and drugs than other age groups . Frequently, drivers are unaware  of the effects that medicines (even non-prescription ones) can have on their driving. It is important to take note of what your GP says and always read the labels and instructions on medicines carefully.

6. Overall agility decreases:

Driving safely requires good awareness of what is happening on the road, not just in front of you but all round - and especially to the rear. If you suffer from arthritis or stiffness of the joints which restricts your movement, then your observation is likely to be affected. In this case, you might chose to fit special "blind-spot" rear view mirrors to help. Some doctors also suggest that exercise may improve your mobility. Your own GP should be able to advise you.

Laws and Regulations

With many years of experience, you will have seen and got used to many changes on the roads. Volumes of traffic, road layouts and even road signs have changed a lot in the last forty years. Whether we like it or not, they will carry on changing in the future.

In order to drive more safely, it is therefore necessary to keep up to date with new traffic laws and road designs. Regardless of age, all drivers should remind themselves from time to time of the Highway Code.

Planning for the Future

Most people in this country could benefit from gentle exercise provided by walking or cycling. When planning your retirement, it’s worth remembering that you will not always be able (or want) to drive. So, by living close to amenities which you use – and to your friends and family – you will not be so seriously affected when it’s no longer possible to drive.

Many older people find that visits to family and friends – and holidays – become much more enjoyable when they no longer have to worry about driving. Remember to make the most of reduced price travel schemes offered on public transport and by most local authorities.

Buying a Car

When you are buying a new or second-hand car, there are some features you could consider that might make driving easier for you:

  • Power-assisted steering and automatic gear changing, as they require less physical strength
  • Clear rather than tinted glass windows allow the driver to see better
  • Easy access to and from the car will help if you have restricted mobility
  • Good all round visibility
  • Comfortable and easily adjustable seats

Sharing the Driving

If you or your partner can both drive you may wish to share the driving. This will help keep you both in practice, and reduce the amount one of you has to drive. In this way, if one of you has to give up driving, the other will still be confident enough to drive and your normal routine won’t be disrupted so much.

Giving Up Driving

For the sake of your mobility, independence and well-being you will want to carry on driving as long as possible. If you are able to act on the advice we have offered here, you will be able to do so more safely.

However, there will come a time when you will consider giving up your licence to avoid risking injury to yourself and other people. If your family and friends say they are concerned about your driving then there may well be good reason.

A driving licence is valid until a driver’s 70th birthday. After this, it will be renewed upon application, at three yearly intervals, as long as the driver makes a self- declaration of fitness to drive. The renewal period is less for people with certain medical conditions.

In most cases the decision about when to stop driving is left up to the individual, hopefully acting on any advice given. Your doctor will probably know the best about your ability to continue driving, but bear in mind that they might be reluctant to advise you to stop, knowing that this might result in a big change in lifestyle.

The advantages of giving up:

  • no more worry about driving;
  • no more worry about parking;
  • no more unexpected repair bills.
  • If your annual mileage is quite low then you may be paying more to keep your car than it would cost to travel everywhere by taxi!

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