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Ellen Phipps

The risk of motor-vehicle crashes is higher among teens aged 16 to 19 than among any other age group. And yet, many people think getting old is a good reason to stop driving. But, what does that actually mean? What age? We all age differently. For this reason, there is no way to set one age when everyone should stop driving. It is true our bodies change with the aging process and therefore it makes sense to be aware of how these changes might affect one’s ability to drive.

The National Institute on Aging offers some advice. As we age, our joints may get stiff, and our muscles may weaken. Arthritis, which is common among older adults, might affect the ability to drive. These changes can make it harder to turn your head to look back, turn the steering wheel quickly, or brake safely.

Safe driving tips:

  • See your doctor if pain, stiffness or arthritis seem to get in the way of your driving.
  • If possible, drive a car with automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes and large mirrors.
  • Be physically active or exercise to keep and even improve your strength and flexibility.
  • Think about getting hand controls for both the gas and brake pedals if you have leg problems.

Eyesight can change as we get older. It might be harder to see people, things and movement outside your direct line of sight. It may take longer to read street or traffic signs or even recognize familiar places. At night, you may have trouble seeing things clearly. Glare from oncoming headlights or streetlights can be a problem. Depending on the time of the day, the sun might be blinding.

Eye diseases, such as glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration, as well as some medicines, can also cause vision problems.

Safe driving tips:

  • If you are 65 or older, see your eye doctor every year. Ask if there are ways to improve your eyesight.
  • If you need glasses or contact lenses to see far away while driving, make sure your prescription is up-to-date and correct. Always wear them when you are driving.
  • Cut back on or stop driving at night if you have trouble seeing in the dark. Try to avoid driving during sunrise and sunset, when the sun can be directly in your line of vision.

As we get older, our hearing can change, making it harder to notice horns, sirens or even noises coming from our own car. Hearing loss can be a problem because these sounds warn you when you may need to pull over or get out of the way.

Safe driving tips: 

  • Have your hearing checked at least every three years after age 50.
  • Discuss concerns you have about hearing with your doctor. There may be things that can help.
  • Try to keep the inside of the car as quiet as possible while driving.

So, how do you know if you should stop driving? To help decide, ask yourself:

  • Do other drivers often honk at me?
  • Have I had some accidents, even if they were only "fender benders"?
  • Do I get lost, even on roads I know?
  • Do cars or people walking seem to appear out of nowhere?
  • Do I get distracted while driving?
  • Have family, friends, or my doctor said they're worried about my driving?
  • Am I driving less these days because I'm not as sure about my driving as I used to be?
  • Do I have trouble staying in my lane?
  • Do I have trouble moving my foot between the gas and the brake pedals, or do I sometimes confuse the two?
  • Have I been pulled over by a police officer about my driving?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, it may be time to talk with your doctor about driving or have a driving assessment.

Perhaps you are worried you won't be able to do the things you want and need to do if you stop driving? Many people have this concern, but there may be more ways to get around than you think. 

For example, in Planning District 9, (Culpeper, Fauquier, Madison, Orange, Rappahannock) there is a program called, FAMS (Foothills Area Mobility System). FAMS manages several different initiatives aimed at expanding community transit options, providing support to members of the community who are elderly and/or disabled; and sharing transportation knowledge and resources. For more information call FAMS at 540-829-5300. 

Upcoming Caregivers Workshop 

Aging Together connects people with resources and communities to improve quality of life as we age. A Caregivers Workshop will be held in December. The workshop will connect caregivers to local resources and provide information on a variety of topics such as financial planning, strategies for caregiving, communication strategies for caregivers of persons living with dementia and more. The workshop is free and open to the public.



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