Driving is dangerous. That’s an easy fact to forget in most of America. Outside a few major metropolitan areas, driving is often the only practical way to get around. The average American drives 16 miles to and from work every day. We try not to think about the physics involved or what would happen if we were to lose focus and veer out of a lane on the highway.
However, once you or a loved one reaches a certain age, the danger of driving comes into sharp focus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 adults over age 65 are killed in a car crash every day, and 700 are injured. That’s significantly higher than the rates for other groups. What are some signs that it’s time to sell your car and get acquainted with the bus schedule?
- Failing vision. There’s a reason you need to pass a vision test to get a license: You need high visual acuity to drive. Otherwise, you may have trouble reading road signs as they go by at 60 mph, or you may not notice a car overtaking you until it’s too late to react. If you have new or worsening vision problems as you age, your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles may require you to pass regular vision tests in order to renew your license.
- Health problems. If you have been diagnosed with a mental or physical illness, don’t forget to ask your doctor how it will affect your driving. Many seniors suffer from dementia, which leads to incidents of confusion that can be dangerous if you’re behind the wheel. Parkinson’s disease can cause tremors that make it hard to control a vehicle. Many common geriatric diseases can lead to driving problems.
- Hearing failure. One third of people over age 65 have new or worsening hearing problems, and because the onset of such problems is normally gradual, many don’t immediately realize it. Have regular hearing tests.
- Drug side effects. Most people start taking more types of medication after they turn 65. If you read the labels carefully, you may notice that some of them have the warning “Do not drive or operate heavy machinery while taking this medicine.” That might be because they cause drowsiness, poor reaction time, blurred vision or some other side effect. If you’re on multiple medications, they may also interact in dangerous ways, so talk to your doctor.
States have special rules
Some states impose conditions on seniors. In California, for example, drivers under age 70 only have to take a vision test when renewing in person, but older drivers must take this test every time. Florida imposes a shorter renewal cycle once you turn 80 as well as a more frequent vision test. A full list is available online.
Driving can be a touchy issue for families to tackle. When a younger relative suggests that a loved one stop driving, the latter may react with practical questions (“How will I get to my appointments?”), or they may react with anger (“Are you saying I can’t be independent?”). Listen to and address their concerns, stress your worries about their safety, and be prepared to take on more responsibility as they need more help getting around. Safety is the top concern when it comes to driving, so don’t leave these discussions until the last minute.