Driver safety is important for everyone and is certainly thought of as a critical component of independence. However, older drivers experience physical changes that can affect their driving ability, such as changes in vision, reaction time and flexibility. Sometimes older drivers recognize these changes and are more cautious about when and where they drive. Some don't drive at night because they find it more difficult to see, some don't drive on freeways, and others drive only within a certain radius of their home or on familiar roads. All of these are ways to adapt to changing physical abilities.
However, sometimes older drivers are reluctant to admit that they may not be as safe behind the wheel as they once were. Oftentimes, family members have concerns about their older drivers. The DMV lists some warning signs that may indicate the need for further evaluation of the driver's skill:
- Getting lost in familiar places
- Ignoring signs and signals
- Difficulty judging gaps in traffic
- Driving too slowly or too fast
- Frequent "close calls" or accidents
- Being easily distracted or having a hard time concentrating while driving
- Friends or relatives not wanting to ride with them
- Difficulty turning your head to check over your shoulder when backing or changing lanes
- Getting frequent traffic tickets or warnings from law enforcement officers
Ideally, the older driver should assess his or her own performance. A crucial first step in owning up to behind-the-wheel safety is a self-assessment, which prompts the driver not only to recognize and correct possible shortcomings, but also to plan ahead for the inevitable effects of aging. The assessment also helps the driver understand family members' concerns.
There are many resources for self-evaluation, driver evaluation and making modifications to one's car to increase driver safety. Several local senior centers offer AARP's Driver Safety Program, a driving refresher course that is available for a small fee, on a periodic basis.
OUTREACH Transportation Services, VTA Santa Clara County
Family Conversations with Older Drivers by The Hartford Foundation
Drivers 55 Plus: Test Your Own Performance by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
The Older and Wiser Driver by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (brochure or video)
Creating Mobility Choices by The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)
CarFit by the American Occupational Therapists Association and AARP
Roadwise Review Online by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
AARP Driver Safety Program
If you decide that you need transportation, consider using RoadRunners, a transportation service provided by the El Camino Hospital Auxiliary.