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Resource Guide For Older Drivers

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As we age, we can continue to drive safely longer with the right supports to ensure driving fitness. According to traffic safety experts from across the country, the key is to intervene early before an on-the-road crisis occurs.

The Older Driver and Pedestrian Safety Project administered by the New York State Office for the Aging, provides information and education to older drivers so that they may remain safely behind the wheel, when appropriate, or access transportation alternatives when they are not. Information and education is also available for caregivers of older drivers, helping professionals in the community, traffic safety professionals or anyone attempting to help an older driver.

Project Partners and Steering Committee

AARP, Albany County Department for the Aging, Albany County Department of Public Works, Allegany County Older Driver Assistance Network, Alzheimer's Association of Northeastern New York, American Automobile Association - Northway and Hudson Valley, Capital District Transportation Authority, Capital District Transportation Committee, Colonie Senior Service Centers, Inc., Erie County Older Driver Family Assistance Help Network, Governor's Traffic Safety Committee, New York State Department of Health, New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, New York State Department of Transportation, New York State Office of the Aging, Mr. Phil Lepore, Consultant on Older Driver Issues, Rensselaer County Department for the Aging, Schenectady County Senior and Long Term Care Services, Senior & Special Needs Driving, LLC, Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital and Westchester County Older Driver Family Assistance Program.

THE EFFECTS OF AGE ON DRIVING - THE CHANGES IN US

The majority of older drivers are good drivers but sometimes a driver's health or physical limitations can affect the safe operation of a motor vehicle. The aging process can affect a driver's ability to sense, decide and act which are all critical skills needed for safe driving.

Knowing the early signs of driving difficulty - both physical and cognitive - allows older drivers and their loved ones to discuss the situation and take appropriate action to maintain their safety and the safety of their community.

VISION and HEARING

Vision
Ninety percent of the information we need to respond to road conditions, traffic patterns, signs and signals comes through our eyes. As we age, a number of conditions may occur that can affect our ability to see well enough to safely operate a motor vehicle.

There are some simple steps that we can take to help minimize the effect that aging eyes can have on our driving:

Hearing
Hearing loss is especially dangerous when driving. As we age, we often lose the ability to hear high pitched tones such as sirens, and sounds among background noise, such as horns and railroad warnings. If hearing loss is ignored or untreated, it can get worse. But hearing loss that is identified early can be helped through treatment such as hearing aids, certain medications and surgery.

Always Wear Your Hearing Device When Driving.



MEDICATIONS and DRIVING

Most drivers are unaware of the potentially dangerous impact medications can have on their driving performance. Taking prescription or over-the-counter medications can cause impairments, such as drowsiness, dizziness, sleepiness, and blurred vision. Reaction time on the road may be clouded by medications that slow the brain's ability to process important driving cues.

If you are planning to drive while taking medication be sure to:

STAYING PHYSICALLY FIT for DRIVING

As we age, we all want to be able to handle the demands of safe driving. To remain safe on the road we must remain alert and quick to respond in emergency situations. We also need to keep up to date with health habits to keep our minds and bodies in shape and able to handle the demands of safe driving.

Studies have shown that more than half of the disabilities caused by chronic disease are closely related to personal health habits and behavior. Individual life styles have a direct relationship to longevity and the quality of life. It all begins with your attitude about how much control you believe you have over the quality of your life.

For most of us, our car is the second most complex machine that we operate, the first is our body. As we age, we must deal with weaker muscles, reduced flexibility and a more limited range of motion. All of which may affect our ability to grip and turn a steering wheel, press the accelerator or brake, or even reach to open the doors and windows. Strength, flexibility and overall wellness contribute to the ability of an older driver to remain a safe driver.

Exercise reduces the extent of slowing down and extended exercise may eliminate it completely. Physical fitness is essential to safe driving, especially as we age. Studies have confirmed that higher levels of fitness among older drivers correspond to better driving ability. Exercise is a great tune-up of our hearts muscles and joints. Check you your doctor to determine the right exercise for you.

An effective exercise program should do three things:

As we age, drivers should:

STAYING MENTALLY FIT for DRIVING

Once our eyes and ears take in information, it is up to our mind to process it and decide on the best course of action. While older minds may be just as sharp as younger ones; they often react more slowly. As we age, it takes longer for the brain to process information and harder for us to ignore distractions.

Memory

Attention-Switching

Divided Attention ("Multitasking")

Completion of Missing Information

The good news is that experience, mature judgment and good driving habits can many times compensate for diminished skills as we age. Stay mentally active and by using problem solving skills in non driving ways can help mental flexibility. Activities like jig saw puzzles, crosswords or learning a new skill or hobby is fun at any age and helps keep the mind flexible.

DRIVING SAFELY LONGER

While the natural process of aging may ultimately affect the skills required to be a safe driver, the changes usually happen over time. Over the course of 10, 20 or more years, older adults may modify their driving several times to accommodate the natural changes in our bodies that aging brings on. As changes in vision, hearing, or other health conditions impair driving skills, older drivers need to know how to adjust their habits to maintain safe mobility and community connections. Just a few simple adjustments such as limiting your driving to certain times can help protect you and those around you from deadly crashes.

It is important to remember that a driver's chronological age is not a good predictor of driving ability.

What counts on the road is your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.

The Fundamentals for "Drivers of all Ages:"

Get Plenty of Sleep

If You Begin to Feel Drowsy While Driving:

Adjust Your Driving Habits to Avoid Difficult Traffic Situations.

Don't Get Caught in the Dark
Even on familiar roads, as daylight falls, drivers should use extra caution and watch for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists who will be less visible. If you have trouble seeing at night, have your vision checked and plan ahead to avoid driving in dark conditions.

Find a Safe Way
Consider driving with a friend, or map out and practice the safest ways to routine destinations: grocery stores, churches, doctor's offices, shopping centers, etc.

Always Look For:

Drive a Safe Car
Look beyond the conventional safety features on a car. Like all drivers, older drivers should make sure their cars offer a comfortable fit, maximum visibility, and minimal physical strain.

Consider These Safety Features for Your Next Car:

Consult an adaptable equipment professional who can help equip your car with devices that help compensate for any losses of flexibility and strength.

DRIVER SAFETY RESOURCES

Driving a car is a life-long learning process. Technology changes, environmental changes and societal changes demand that drivers be adaptable. Defensive driving programs offer the older driver an opportunity to refresh their skills and driving abilities. Defensive driving programs refresh knowledge concerning the rules of the road as well as provide safety tips. Included here, for your information, are the names of the most frequently requested programs. There may be others offered in your community.

AARP Driver Safety Program
The AARP Driver Safety Program is the nation's first and largest refresher course for drivers age 50 and older. This program has helped millions of drivers remain safe on today's roads. You can expect to learn about current rules of the road, how to operate your vehicle more safely in today's increasingly challenging driving environment, and how to make adjustments to compensate for common age-related changes in vision, hearing, medications and reaction time.

The program is designed to help you:

To find out about an AARP driver safety session in your area call 1-888-227-7669 or on the AARP website(External Link). Cost for the course varies.

Your Local American Automobile Association (AAA) Offers:

National Safety Council - Defensive Driving Course

Features of the course include:

For a class schedule call 1-800-427-2365 or visit the National Safety Council website(External Link). Cost for the course varies.

Approved Driver Safety Course Providers
Current listings of driver safety course providers in New York State can also be found on the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles(External Link).

Driver Assessment/Rehabilitation Programs
Driver assessment/rehabilitation programs specialize in the evaluation of health based skills needed for safe driving based on a doctor's order. Although driver rehabilitation programs may vary, most typically include a clinical assessment including a review of driving history, medical review of functional abilities and medication use, as well as a behind-the-wheel assessment of driving skills and safety. Individuals who have physical, visual, mental and/or cognitive conditions would benefit from a driver evaluation.

Contact your local area agency on aging to locate the most frequently requested driver safety programs offered in your community.

PLANNING for RETIREMENT from DRIVING

Most people want to keep driving as long as possible. No one wants to give up the freedom and convenience of driving. While experts agree that driving ability generally begins to deteriorate at age 55, all drivers are not the same. Some people can continue driving well into old age; others cannot. The decision to stop driving is a tough one but most of us want to make a responsible choice to protect ourselves and others.

In The Past Few Months Have You:

The time may come when an older driver decides to retire from driving.

But retiring from driving doesn't mean retiring from life.

Plan ahead and learn about the alternative options for getting around.

TRANSPORTATION ALTERNATIVES

To learn about the transportation alternatives in your community begin by calling the area agency on aging in the county where you reside.

This is what an area agency on aging can do to help you:

Please be aware that when you contact the area agency on aging to find out about transportation providers in the community you will need be prepared to tell them if you are able to use a taxi, public transportation or a senior van independently or if you will require assistance.

In the process of making arrangements for alternative transportation, these are some questions to ask when you contact a local transportation provider:

Be sure to write it all down.

Based on the information you gathered, prepare a list of transportation alternatives and keep it near the telephone or somewhere that is handy to access.

Be sure to keep the transportation plan current; things change.

For Additional Information:
New York State Office for the Aging
2 Empire State Plaza
Albany, New York 12223-1251
Help Line
1-800-342-9871
or
Email us