For many seniors, the idea of handing over the car keys can feel like dropping an anchor. Fortunately, there are tips for improving driving skills in senior citizens so that doesn’t have to happen.
Older people can have a harder time driving as they age due to health conditions or even certain medications. But older age doesn’t mean you have to stop driving.
“Declining driving skills are more related to health issues than age,” says Mark Hornbeck, AARP Michigan communications director. “There are excellent, healthy 80-year-old drivers on the road, just as there are younger drivers who may lack driving skills due to health problems or inexperience.”
Checking for problems
If you’re concerned about your aging parent’s driving skills declining, there are a variety of steps you can take to help. First, see if your parent is aware of an issue.
“It’s important for everyone to know that their driving skills may be slipping, for whatever reason, regardless of age,” Hornbeck says, pointing out that accidents are actually more likely among younger drivers than older drivers.
“Also, older drivers often realize they may have lost some driving acumen, so they self-regulate.”
If you’re still not sure, get in the car with your parent and go for a ride.
“The best way adult children can learn about a parent’s driving issues is to ride in the car with them, take note of trouble areas and talk with the older driver about them,” Hornbeck says. “That’s an important first step to the ‘We need to talk about giving up your keys’ conversation.”
The state of Michigan also offers a guide for aging drivers and their families, which includes licensing requirements, a safe driving self-assessment checklist and more.
The AARP offers a Smart Driving course for seniors about “learning the new rules of the road,” he says, “so older motorists can navigate roundabouts, roads with bike lanes, new left turn lanes” and other changes.
It also includes a basic driving refresher and can help older people get a discount on their auto insurance. Seniors can also take advantage of the AARP’s CarFit program, which involves helping older drivers adjust their vehicles – such as mirrors, headrests and steering wheels – for comfort and safety, Hornbeck adds.
AAA offers resources for older drivers, too, including a self-rating tool seniors can use to assess their own driving skills.
10 tips to share
Encourage your aging parent to take some basic steps for maintaining auto safety and improving driving skills in senior citizens, too. These can include the following tips courtesy of the AARP.
- Maintain your vehicle, making sure it’s in good working condition.
- Only drive when you feel emotionally and physically ready. If you’re having side effects from new medications, talk to your doctor.
- Pay attention, because the main causes of traffic collisions are inattention and distraction.
- Always use a seatbelt, which reduces the rates of injury and death in traffic collisions by about 45 percent, the AARP reports.
- Don’t drive faster than posted speed limits, and drive slower when conditions require it.
- Observe and obey all traffic laws.
- Be on alert for unexpected situations and keep a safe distance between cars.
- Always have your cellphone on silent and tucked away so it isn’t a distraction.
- Get radio and other car settings set in advance so you aren’t distracted while driving.
- Don’t eat, drink or smoke while driving.