Seven tips for safer senior driving
We’ve consulted doctors, ophthalmologists, psychologists and road safety experts to come up with some simple ways to help extend your safe driving career. By combining regular check-ups with regular physical activity, you really can make a difference when it comes to staying as safe as possible for as long as possible. Also, by seeking the advice of experts and the opinions of family members, you can identify possible issues at an early stage and take the appropriate action to put them right.
1. Focus on your overall health. Get fit, be fit, do exercise for 15 to 20 minutes each day– (also check any medication you may be taking is not a contra-indication to driving.)
Research from the US shows that by doing exercise in this way, you can usually move more freely and you’ll perform your driving tasks more effectively than those who don’t exercise. Also, take time to be aware of any medication you may be on. Can it affect your ability to focus and concentrate? If in doubt, ask your GP or pharmacist for advice.
2. Get a regular eye test. After all, good vision is the starting point for safe driving.
It’s usual that eyesight declines with age, so we need to ensure we have regular tests. Not only can an eye test highlight obvious problems, but it can also allow early detection of certain conditions that may not demonstrate symptoms in the early stages.
3. Get a driver MOT (such as GEM’s driver assessment). After all, it’s what a car gets every year, so why not the driver from time to time as well?
A driver assessment from GEM is not a test, but it’s a great way to see where you’re doing well and where you could perhaps do a little better. You’ll benefit from the observations and experience of a highly skilled professional police driver. Updating your driving skills is a sensible and enjoyable experience. The assessment offers the opportunity to recognise any possible shortcomings and to implement a strategy to banish those risky habits.
4. Check your car: is it the most suitable for your needs? Could you modify it, adapt it or possibly trade it in for something that’s more appropriate?
Have a think about the car you drive. Your priorities might once have been luxury and performance, but perhaps the time has come to put these after functionality and convenience. Can you get in and out easily? Can you read the speedometer clearly? Do your lights illuminate a dark road effectively? Is the steering wheel thick enough for a good grip? Does the car have parking assistance – or might you consider an after-market fit? Having an appropriate vehicle is really important if you want to stay as safe as possible for as long as possible.
5. Eliminate those harder journeys… the ones that cause you stress or discomfort.
You could think about driving only in full daylight when your vision will be at its best. Perhaps be more willing to postpone those journeys where previously you may not have thought twice. Stay at home or use other modes of transport when it’s wet, icy, snowy or foggy. Another thing you can do is drive only on familiar roads. Let someone else do the hard work if it’s unknown territory! And this might also be an ideal time to explore alternatives such as taxi, train or coach.
6. Learn from your mistakes and near misses. Don’t pretend they’re not happening.
Good drivers reflect on their actions and learn from them. They think about situations where there was a bit more risk than there needed to be, and they ask what they could do differently to make it less likely to happen again. Remember that we’re all generally so used to our own driving that we don’t notice habits and actions that others will recognise as potentially risky. So if someone points something out, it’s because they’re trying to reduce your risk, not because they’re looking to find fault. And once you’re aware of something, it’s hopefully a lot easier to do something about it.
7. Plan your journeys to avoid using the roads at really busy times
Driving requires a lot of concentration, and elderly drivers are more susceptible to the dangers of fatigue. So, build in plenty of breaks on journeys. Get familiar with a sat nav, but make sure you programme it before you set out. Many older drivers feel at their most vulnerable when making right-hand turns – in which case plan journeys with as many left turns as possible as these are less taxing on body and mind.