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Are your driving skills up to snuff?

Created date

July 28th, 2017
Senior driving a car.

Senior driving a car.

Maintaining our independence is a high priority for all age groups, and a primary way we achieve this is through owning and driving a car. While motor vehicles are a wonderful boon to us all and part of the American dream, they also come with risk and responsibility. 

As you age, your driving skills may decline and it is critical to strike the appropriate balance between autonomy, independence, and driver safety. Fortunately, there are ways to take stock of how you are doing behind the wheel, address concerns, and feel confident your decisions keep you and those around you safe. 

Many factors contribute to driver safety and a good way to start your self-assessment is to answer ten simple questions developed by the AARP called the Close Call Quiz (elderlydrivingassessments.com). Other helpful resources include the American Geriatrics Society and the Alzheimer’s Association websites, which provide valuable background information. Please consider that risk factors for motor vehicle accidents include a history of falls in the past year, visual or cognitive difficulties, a recent accident, and use of certain medicines.

Changes not always readily noticeable

You’ve undoubtedly been driving for a long time, so you may not notice the gradual changes in your physical health that affect your driving such as changes in cognition, movement, vision, hearing, or even judgment. Any of these deficits could be due to diagnosed or undiagnosed medical problems, or they could be related to medications or their side effects. If you are involved in an accident or have a close call, don’t avoid telling your doctor because of fear you will lose driving privileges. Your doctor may be able to help in many ways—starting with a thorough physical exam.

Based on your examination findings, your doctor may adjust your treatments or change your medications to help you return to your best level of health and functioning. You could also be evaluated by a driver rehabilitation specialist or look into programs like the CarFit Program (car-fit.org) sponsored by AAA, AARP Driver Safety, and the American Occupational Therapy Association. CarFit offers events throughout the U.S., including a 20-minute assessment to ensure your car is adjusted for your safety. 

Technology can also make a difference and has been found to prevent accidents and relieve some of the stresses of driving. AAA and the University of Michigan found that forward collision warning, rear view displays, self-parking, and navigation assistance are some useful preventative advances. Some day, probably sooner than we can imagine, we will all be in self-driving cars. 

Finally, if you find it’s no longer safe to drive, your doctor can recommend community resources that will help you obtain safe transportation and enjoy peace of mind.

We all find great joy and independence in driving, but it comes with great responsibility. Please take whatever steps are necessary in order to protect you, your passengers, and the other drivers on the road.

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