Safety information for elderly drivers

April, 2013

For the elderly community staying safe on the road as one gets older may mean making adjustments for age-related physical changes and health conditions and taking steps to improve their driving.

Here are some tips and advice for the elderly to help your relative drive safely if they experience changes in vision, hearing, attention and reaction time, or strength, flexibility and coordination. There are also tips on how to keep medications from interfering with your driving.

Vision – There are several steps to take to make sure you see well enough to drive safely. Advice for elderly people is:

  • Have vision checked every 1 to 2 years. An eye doctor can treat many vision problems. For example, surgery can remove cataracts.

  • If they wear glasses or contact lenses, ask their eye doctor or optometrist if they need a new prescription. Anti-reflective lenses and polarised sunglasses can help reduce glare. Always wear corrective lenses while driving.

  • Limit driving to daytime hours if they have trouble seeing in the dark.

  • Tell them to keep their windshield, mirrors, and headlights clean. Turn the brightness up on the instrument panel.

  • Adjust their seat height so they can see the road for at least 10 feet ahead of their car.

Hearing – One can also take several steps to make sure they hear well enough to drive safely.

  • Have hearing checked every 3 years.

  • If necessary, get a hearing aid – and encourage them to use it when they drive.

  • Keep the inside of the car as quiet as possible while driving. If the radio or conversations with other people are distracting, limit those, too.

  • Tell them to watch for the flashing lights of emergency vehicles. They may not hear a siren from a distance.

Reaction time – Here are some helpful tips to address changes in attention and reaction time.

  • Encourage them to leave enough space between them and the car in front. Get them to find a marker ahead of them, such as a tree or sign. When the car ahead of them passes this mark, count “1001, 1002, 1003, 1004.” Leave enough space so that they get to 1004 before they reach the marker.

  • Start braking early when you need to stop.

  • Avoid high-traffic areas if possible. Drive during the day and avoid rush hour. Find other routes with less traffic.

  • When on the motorway, drive in the left-hand lane, where traffic moves more slowly.

  • Scan far down the road so you can anticipate problems and plan your actions.

  • Avoid right turns if they make them uncomfortable. If they must turn right, pay attention to the speed of oncoming traffic.

Medication – Medical care for the elderly can affect driving, they also need to make sure medications do not interfere with your driving.

  • Read the medicine label carefully, and pay attention to any warnings. If the label says, “Do not use while operating heavy machinery,” do not let your relative drive while taking this medicine. Ask their doctor or pharmacist if you are not sure about a particular medicine.

  • Ask a doctor or pharmacist to explain to them how their medications could affect their driving. It might be possible to adjust the dose or timing to minimise side effects.

  • Do not let them drive if they feel lightheaded or drowsy.

  • Never let them drive after drinking alcoholic drinks or mixing these drinks and medications.

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