Senior Driving Checklist for Aging Parents: Safety Tips for Older Drivers
January 6, 2020
An older driver behind the wheel of a car has their share of strengths and some potential weaknesses when it comes to skill and safety. On the positive side, they can draw on hundreds of thousands of miles of experience from throughout their years. If they encounter it on the road, it’s likely not their first time experiencing it, so in a way, they’re ready for anything.
But when considering how age can negatively affect one’s ability to drive safely, there are some undeniable factors that can degrade driving skills. Vision inevitably dims with the years. Pupils and peripheral vision shrink as we age. Hearing loss in the high pitch range can make it easier to miss an emergency vehicle’s siren. Reaction time lengthens with age, and muscle and joint pain can make an older driver hesitate in emergency situations.
An older adult driver can bring strong skills to the road from their years of experience, but they must also be aware of any factors that may begin to degrade driving abilities.
While certainly not every aging driver experiences all or even any of these hindrances on their driving skills, all older adults can actively apply their robust years of driving expertise and put a bit of extra concerted effort into balancing any effects of the passing years.
Safe Driving Checklist
The following is a safe driving checklist, with 10 questions to ask yourself before taking to the road.
- Have you consumed anything that could negatively affect your driving?
Do you read the labels on your medications? See those ominous sentences, such as “Drowsiness may occur” or “Do not drive or operate machinery”? They’re not kidding. Take these warnings seriously. Additionally, take alcohol seriously. Before an older adult consumes a single drink, age has already impaired them. Age + alcohol = danger.
- How are you feeling?
Are you angry? Depressed? Preoccupied? Let the moods pass before you get behind the wheel. Strong emotions can distract you.
- How is your vehicle holding up?
Turn a critical eye on your vehicle. Is it older in “car years” than you are in human years? Are the brakes in good working order? Are the tires properly inflated, and do they have plenty of tread? A run-down car is an unsafe car. Newer models come with safety features – back-up cameras, safety restraints, airbags, impact warning lights and sounds, hands-free telephones and GPS, automatic emergency braking – all of them unimaginable just a few years ago. These innovations can extend your driving career and your life.
“Is your vehicle older in 'car years' than you are in human years?”
- Do you know exactly where you’re going?
Peering to the side to search for an address, even at low speed, can cause you to swerve from your lane, run a stop sign, or bump a car that has stopped in front of you. Study your route and set that GPS destination BEFORE you leave the driveway.
- Have friends or family expressed concern with your driving?
If they’ve said your driving scares them, they’re not just trying to annoy you; there are likely some objective factors related to your driving that causes fear. Brush up on your technique with a defensive driving course. Improve your driving habits. Resolve to be more attentive. That will quiet your critics. (Barking at them won’t.)
- Do you push the speed limit (possibly the way you did when you were 20?)
Whether when you were younger and had sharper vision and reactions, or today - speeding is risky. It’s a bad idea, then or now.
Keep all drivers - including yourself - safe by minding the speed limit.
- Do other aggressive drivers on the road make your blood boil?
If another driver cuts you off and darts into the safety space you’ve left between you and the car ahead of you, do you have an urge to give the offender a dose of his own medicine? Don’t. You’re the grown-up on the road; the experienced driver. Keep your cool, don’t let road-rage affect you, and be courteous, even when the other guy isn’t.
- Can you play the What-If Game?
As in: What if someone runs the red light east-west as I start to cross this intersection north-south? What if a kid on a Big Wheel is just over the crest of the steep hill I’m climbing? What if that pedestrian walks against the light? What if an axle breaks on the rusty hulk in front of me? It’s not enough to take care of yourself; look out for the other guy and always be prepared.
- What’s on your lift-off checklist?
These items should be on it: Windshield clean? Seatbelts buckled? Lights on? Clear path behind me? Seat adjusted? Side and rear-view mirrors adjusted?
- Is your head in the game?
Make driving a conscious, engaged job. As advanced as cars are these days, they still don’t have autopilot. You’re the captain of a couple of thousand pounds of rolling steel. Act like it.
Have something to add to our checklist? Did you find this helpful? Leave us a comment below!