AMARILLO - Nothing like the freedom of the open road … seeing what’s on the other side of the hill has always been part of American freedom. But when seeing what’s on the other side of the hill involves large vehicles traveling at 70 miles per hour, safety must be factored in especially when drivers get older.
“Maintaining a driver’s license is important for a person of any age, especially an older adult,” said Andrew Crocker, Texas Cooperative Extension gerontology and health specialist in Amarillo.
But recent news about older drivers losing control of their vehicles and slamming into people and property have raised questions about safety. “Unfortunately, as we age, response times slow and dull, vision and hearing may begin to fail, and we must seriously evaluate our ability to drive a vehicle,” Crocker said.
He suggested the following self-evaluation questions be answered by older people who want to maintain their safe driving records :
- How is my vision? Good eyesight is obviously of utmost importance to drivers. Conditions that limit vision, including glaucoma or cataracts, are more likely to develop with age. Older eyes might also be more susceptible to glare from the sun or other cars’ headlights; night vision may be reduced. Regular eye exams and eyeglasses that help reduce glare and improve night vision might be of use. Remember: When changing eye wear prescriptions, allow the eyes enough time to fully adjust to the new lenses before getting behind the wheel.
- Did I take my medication? Older adults are more likely to be taking some form of medication than are younger drivers. Some of these medications can affect motor skills or cause drowsiness or lapses in memory all very dangerous to someone who is driving a vehicle. Never drive while experiencing these conditions. Instead, check with a health care provider about possible alternative medications that do not have these side effects.
- Is my vehicle in good health? Cars need to be in good mechanical health, just as their drivers need to be in good physical health. Along with regular maintenance and oil changes, check the tires to make sure they are in good condition and the air pressure is correct; check the windshield wipers to make sure they will do their job in rainy weather; and make sure the mirrors and windows do not have any nicks or cracks that can obscure vision.
- Is my vehicle equipped? If hand controls or special steering devises are needed, were they installed by a professional and was the driver trained in their proper use?
- Am I up to date? Driver’s education courses can help older drivers refresh their skills behind the wheel. As an added bonus, some insurance companies offer reduced rates on auto insurance for drivers who have completed these courses; check with an insurance agent for details. And check with the local office of the Department of Public Safety for information on driver’s education courses.
- Should I be driving? This may be the hardest question to answer, Crocker said. “Many times the hardest decisions are best made by yourself, rather that letting a situation get to where someone else must take action for you,” he said. “Too often the response from health care providers and family members is to take away the keys without looking at ways the older driver may stay behind the wheel.” He suggested contacting the Texas DPS about a program that allows restricted driving privileges driving between certain hours and/or certain locations. “This program is entirely voluntary and may help stave off the inevitable: Giving up your license entirely,” Crocker said.
For more information on driver safety and education, contact the local office of the DPS. County Extension agents can help with additional local resources and information.