Dear Savvy Senior,
What safety tips can you recommend for older drivers? My 86-year-old mother, who still drives herself, had a fender bender last month and I worry about her safety.
— Back Seat Daughter
Dear Back Seat,
With more and more older Americans driving well into their 70s, 80s and beyond, there are a variety of things your mom can do to help maintain and even improve her driving skills. Here are some recommendations by driving rehabilitation specialists who work with older drivers.
Get an eye exam: Because about 90% of the information necessary to drive is received through our eyes, this is a good first step in ensuring your mom’s driving safety. So, get your mom’s eyes checked every year to be sure her vision and eyewear is up to par.
Get a physical or wellness exam: As people age, it’s also very important to monitor changes in overall health as it relates to driving. Medical conditions like arthritis, dementia, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, sleep apnea and stroke can all affect driving.
In addition, many seniors also take multiple medications or combinations of medications that can make them drowsy or lightheaded, which can impair judgment or affect reflexes or alertness necessary for safe driving. So, an annual physical or wellness examination and medication review is also a smart way to verify your mom’s driving safety.
Take a refresher course: AARP and the American Automobile Association both have older driver improvement courses that can help your mom brush up her driving skills and understand how to adjust for slower reflexes, weaker vision and other age-related physical changes that can affect driving. Taking a class may also earn her a discount on her auto insurance. To locate a class, contact your local AAA (AAA.com) or AARP (AARPdriversafety.org, 888-227-7669). Most courses cost around $20 to $30 and can be taken online.
Make some adjustments: Adjusting when and where your mom drives are another way to help keep her safe and behind the wheel longer. Some simple adjustments include not driving after dark or during rush hour traffic, avoiding major highways or other busy roads, and not driving in poor weather conditions.
Evaluate her driving: To stay on top of your mom’s driving abilities you should take a ride with her from time to time, watching for problem areas. For example: Does she drive at inappropriate speeds, tailgate or drift between lanes? Does she have difficulty seeing, backing up or changing lanes? Does she react slowly, get confused easily or make poor driving decisions?
For more evaluation tips, AAA offers a senior driver self-rating assessment exercise (Drivers 65 Plus) that you or she can access at Exchange.AAA.com/safety/senior-driver-safety-mobility.
If your mom needs a more thorough evaluation, you can turn to a driver rehabilitation specialist who’s trained to evaluate older drivers and offer suggestions and adaptations to help keep her safe. But be aware that this type of assessment can run anywhere between $100 and $500 or more. To locate a professional in your area, visit ADED.net or AOTA.org – search “driving practitioner directory.”
When it gets to the point that your mom’s driving isn’t safe anymore and she needs to quit, you may need to help her create a list of names and phone numbers of family, friends and local transportation services that she can call on for a ride.
To find out what transportation services are available in your mom’s area, contact the Eldercare Locator (800-677-1116), which will direct you to her area agency on aging for assistance.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.