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Driving Safely After Age 60: Tips and Precautions

Safe Driving as a Senior Citizen Thanks to better healthcare and advances in modern medicine, the average person is living longer, and better, than ever before. Many people who are in their sixties and beyond are still just as active and independent as they were in their youth. But unfortunately the saying “You're only as old as you feel” doesn't really apply to eyesight, and certain activities, such as driving, can become more difficult with age. Here are some simple things you can do that will help you enjoy the open road safely for as long as possible.

Get regular eye exams
It's important that the older person get regular eye exams, especially if they are at increased risk of developing certain eye problems, such as glaucoma or cataracts. Typically, this means seeing your eye doctor at least once every two years, but you will need to go more often if you have certain eye conditions or other health problems which can affect your eyesight, such as diabetes.

Even if you can read the standard eye chart like a pro, you may still have issues with your eyes that could affect your driving. For example, certain eye problems can affect your ability to adjust to changing lighting conditions. You may find yourself having trouble seeing the road at night, or even temporarily blinded by the headlights of passing cars. Some eye diseases can progress quickly to full loss of vision if not treated, so it's critical that you see your eye doctor at the first sign of trouble, in addition to your regular appointments.

Know your own limitations
While there might be some pride and stubbornness at play, it's important for the senior driver to know where to draw the line. Night vision isn't as sharp for older drivers, so it's best that they leave the evening and late night driving duties to someone else. If comes a time when the older driver must be out after dark, then the following night driving safety rules should be followed:

  • Make sure that the headlights are properly aimed and that they are clean before heading out.

  • Clean the windshield as well.

  • Adjust your mirrors for optimal vision and to deflect some of the glare from lights behind you.

  • Never look directly at oncoming lights because they can leave you blind for up to five full seconds.

  • Keep your eyes adjusted to the darkness by looking side to side frequently. If you find yourself staring at the center line or other fixed object, forcibly look away or ‘highway hypnosis’ may set in, which will slow your reaction time.

Nighttime driving may not be the only problem however; some drivers might find themselves facing problems from the glare of the sun as well. This is not a problem that is limited to the summer months either, and many drivers report that the glare of the sun reflecting off of snow is worse by far. If you do have problems with overly bright light, make sure that you either have sunglasses with you in the car at all times. (If you rely on photochromic lenses, make sure that yours will work behind the windshield before starting your road trip, because many will not. Transitions DriveWear is one model that is specifically designed to darken inside a car.)

Allow for more time and distance
Not only is our vision impacted by our advancing age, but our reaction times are as well. The senior driver must learn to compensate by leaving more distance between himself and the other drivers on the road. In addition, it's important to make sure that you are not over driving your headlights when out on the road at night. Your headlights are your first line of defense against things that you could encounter on the road, such as holes or animals, and if you're driving too fast, you won't see these hazards in time to avoid them.

Consider refresher courses or additional testing
If the skills of an older driver are questionable, a refresher driving course, driving safety course or similar testing can help put everyone’s mind at ease. You can generally find this type of program through organizations such AARP, the American Automobile Association (AAA), driving schools, adult eduction programs or local safety councils. Your DMV might also have information on programs in your area.

Above all, if at any point you're unsure of your driving ability for any reason, you shouldn't get behind the wheel, both for your own safety and the safety of everyone who shares the road with you. Never attempt to drive if you are not absolutely certain that you can do so without a problem.

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