Driving allows people to stay independent and socially connected. Staying safe is important for all drivers, but as we age the challenges of staying safe might be getting too much for us.
To be a safe and confident driver requires coordination and awareness of what is going on around you, quick reaction time and being able to deal with changing traffic and road conditions. It also requires the driver to remain alert to the changes in road law.
Most older drivers are as safe as any other age group and they are less likely to be in an accident. In Victoria, older drivers do not have to pass an age-related test as is the case in some states of Australia. Drivers, health professionals, and family and friends are expected to report chronic health conditions which might have an adverse effect on driving skills. The outcome of a report does not mean an automatic cancellation of your licence, but it might mean you will be asked to take a test. Having a medical condition or taking a number of medications have a negative impact on driving ability. Older people are likely to take longer to respond to a hazardous situation than a younger driver, and they are more likely to be involved in a crash at an intersection and on multi-lane roads.
Being an older driver also has positive effects on driving. Older drivers are good at self-regulating when and where they drive, avoiding unsafe conditions and driving shorter distances. Older drivers are also more cautious, obey the law, don’t drink and drive and rarely speed.
Some of the medical conditions that lead to poorer driving ability include:
- reduced vision and hearing,
- decreased muscle strength and pain from arthritis, making looking over your shoulder and using enough force on the brake pedal difficult,
- dizziness and heart problems,
- memory and orientation problems, and
- neurological conditions like stoke and Parkinson’s disease.
Older drivers are often reluctant to give up driving, despite experiencing a decline in capacity due to health issues. Many people might try to have a conversation with the older driver and if you are the older driver it is good to think about your responses before the conversation.
Retiring from driving takes some planning and you can start that sooner rather than later so that you know what’s ahead.
Questions to ask yourself might be:
- Are you causing yourself some worries when you drive?
- Is keeping a car becoming too costly? Think about servicing, petrol costs, insurance.
- How about the car maintenance? Are you capable of doing these things the way you used to?
- Are you worried about the volume and speed of traffic?
- Is your car safe?
- Can I use public transport and taxis?
Whether you are retiring from driving yourself or helping someone else to do so, it’s good to consider alternative transport options early. If you have noticed difficulty with memory or getting lost on the roads, then it is important that you talk to your doctor about a test for dementia. Having dementia, doesn’t mean you have to stop driving straightaway, but having a test and then planning for stopping will give you much more confidence in the future.
Many people in the later years will have a driving assessment and your GP can help you arrange one of these either with an occupational therapist through your respective state’s road authority.
For our Victorian readers’, the websites of VicRoads and RACV will provide up-to-date and extensive information for you to continue to drive safely and help you make the decision to retire from driving easier also.
We would love to hear about your experience with driving and better ageing at email@example.com.