Driving your own car is a powerful part of remaining independent. For many seniors it is a fierce source of pride that they can still get themselves where they need to go without relying on anyone else for help. The reality is, though, that as you age your driving skills often diminish in gradual but important ways. This does not necessarily mean you have to give up driving altogether, but it is a very good time to take a refresher course to brush up on your skills and learn important safety practices especially for senior drivers.
The changing needs of senior drivers
Remember when you first got your driver’s license and tasted the freedom of driving yourself all over the place? You probably felt invincible, as if you knew everything there was to know about driving and you were the best driver ever to hit the road. Of course we all (hopefully) grow out of this initial phase and become safe, mature drivers making good decisions on the road. You may literally drive for decades without any problems, accidents, or incidents.
There comes a time, though, when the physical realities of being a senior begin to affect your driving skills. Perhaps your eyesight is not as good as it used to be, or you have difficulty turning your head all the way to see behind you. Even your reaction time becomes slower as you age, often without you even realizing what it happening. Other changes affecting senior drivers include increased volume of traffic on the roads, more powerful cars with all sorts of new features and technologies, and changes to traffic laws and rules.
All of these things contribute to the changing needs of senior drivers, but all too often we don’t realize just how significant these changes are. And not adapting to changing needs can lead to increased risk of accidents, injuries, and other driving-related problems. The great news is that you can counteract some of the changes you’re experiencing and adjust to your changing needs as a driver.
Take a course to learn new skills
There are a number of organizations now offering specialized driving refresher courses designed for senior citizen drivers. These are often called defensive driving or senior driving safety courses, but although the names may differ slightly the best ones all pay attention to the same important issues:
• Understanding the normal physical changes experienced by seniors and how to adjust driving habits to decrease the impact of these changes
• Refreshing and updating knowledge of traffic rules and laws in your area
• Safety skills and training to reduce the chances of accidents, traffic citations, and injuries
• Warning signs that give early clues of the approaching need to stop driving
Most courses are taught in just a few hours, usually over a couple of days, and generally consist mostly of classroom discussion and instruction. Some classes also include “hands on” learning either in driving simulators or in your car with the class instructor. As an added bonus, when you take an accredited senior defensive driving course (such as those offered by AAA and AARP) your car insurance company will often give you a discount on your premium. Check with your insurance agent for specific information about your policy.
Safety is just as important as independence
Seniors often resist changing their driving habits because they fear that admitting the need to make changes means others will try to take away their driving privileges altogether. In most cases, though, this is simply not the case. Driving is an important part of maintaining your sense of independence and freedom, but it is just as important to be safe when driving. All it takes is one accident or injury to dramatically change your physical health or abilities. It makes sense, then, to do everything you can to continue driving safely as your body ages and your needs change.
Often the changes you decide to make are relatively minor, such as:
• Driving in the daytime rather than at night
• Planning errands for non-rush hour times of day
• Avoiding driving in rain, snow, or icy conditions
• Driving for shorter periods of time with more frequent stops to rest and stretch your legs
• Changing to a different vehicle with more convenient features and better visibility
So why not take the first step toward improved driving safety and sign up for a defensive driving course? You just might be surprised at how much you learn and how glad you’ll be that you did it.