As you get older, take care to drive safely

September 16, 2002

This summer, the Maryland Department of Transportation's State Highway Administration has highlighted its highway safety initiatives in an effort to reverse the increasing trend in traffic crash fatalities.

In 2001, there were 662 traffic fatalities, up from 617 in 2000 and 598 in 1999. If these trends continue, fatalities may rise as high as 725 this year.

This year, the Highway Administration has focused on the aging driver with a reminder that by staying alert and attentive, crashes can be avoided and prevented.

Most mature drivers are capable and have a lifetime of driving experience. For these reasons, decisions about a person's ability to drive should never be based on age alone.


However, changes in vision, physical fitness and reflexes may cause safety concerns. People who accurately assess these changes can adjust their driving habits so they stay safe on the road, or choose other kinds of transportation.

Here are some tips on coping with the physical effects of aging so you remain a safe driver as long as you can.

Do you have these symptoms of declining vision?

  • You have problems reading highway or street signs or recognizing someone you know across the street.

  • You have trouble seeing lane lines and other pavement markings, curbs, medians, other vehicles and pedestrians, especially at dawn, dusk and at night.

  • You experience more discomfort at night from the glare of oncoming headlights.

    What can you do?

  • Always wear your prescription glasses.

  • Avoid eye ware with side pieces that may block your vision.

  • Do not wear sunglasses or tinted lenses at night.

  • Don't darken or tint your car windows.

  • Avoid driving at dawn, dusk and night

  • If you are extremely light-sensitive, check with your eye doctor to see if it can be corrected.

  • If you are 60 or older, see an eye doctor every year to check for cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and other conditions associated with aging.

  • Keep your windshield, mirrors and headlights clean, and make sure your headlight aim is checked when your car is inspected.

  • Choose a car with larger dials and easy-to-read symbols.

  • Turn brightness up on the instrument panel.

  • Sit high enough in your seat so you can see the road for at least 10 feet in front of your car.

  • Use a cushion if your car seats can't be raised.

    Do you have these symptoms of decreased physical fitness?

  • Diminished strength, coordination and flexibility.

  • Trouble looking over your shoulder or looking left and right.

  • Trouble moving your foot from the gas to the brake pedal or turning the steering wheel.

  • You have fallen down - not counting a trip or stumble - once or more in the previous year.

  • You walk less than one block per day.

    What can you do?

  • With your doctor's approval, do some stretching exercises and start a walking program.

  • Get examined by a doctor if you have pain or swelling in your feet.

  • If you have pain or stiffness in your arms, legs or neck, your doctor may prescribe medication and/or physical therapy.

  • Choose a car with automatic transmission, power steering and power brakes.

  • See an occupational therapist or a certified driving rehabilitation specialist who can prescribe special equipment to make it easier to steer your car and operate the foot pedals.

  • Eliminate your driver's side blind spot by re-aiming your side mirror.

  • If you use a wide-angle mirror, get lots of practice judging distances to other cars before using it in traffic.

  • Keep alert to sounds outside your car.

  • Limit passenger conversation and background noises from the radio.

  • If you wear a hearing aid, be careful opening car windows, as some people find drafts can impair the aid's effectiveness.

  • Watch for flashing lights of emergency vehicles.

  • Sit at least 10 inches from the steering wheel to reduce the chances of an injury from your air bag.

  • Always wear your seat belt.

    Has this happened to you?

  • A friend or family member has expressed concern about your driving.

  • You sometimes get lost driving familiar routes.

  • You have been pulled over by a police officer and warned about your poor driving behavior.

  • You have had several moving violations, near misses or actual crashes in the last three years.

  • Your doctor or other health caregiver has advised you to restrict or stop driving.

    What can you do?

  • Be aware of your physical limitations and how they may affect your driving.

  • Listen to people who know you best and care about you most.

  • Discuss driving with your doctor. He or she can evaluate the interactions and side effects of all the medications you may be taking.

  • Refresh your knowledge of safe driving practices and learn about new traffic control and road design features through a mature driver class.

  • Begin planning alternative ways of meeting your transportation needs.

  • Learn about transportation options in your community, then try them out to see which options work best for you.

    Depending on where you live, there are many ways of getting around without using your car. Consider these options:

  • City buses, trams and subway systems.

  • Taxi cabs and personalized driver services.

  • Shuttle buses, such as those offered by churches, senior centers and retirement communities.

Your local Area Agency on Aging can lead you to transportation services and benefits you might not be aware of.

If public transportation service is available in your area, ask a friend to help you. Going with someone who knows how to ride the bus or subway may make you feel more secure.

Ask questions about the services and schedules of each type of transportation available to you, including whether they offer evening or weekend rides.

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