As we enter the winter season
By Peggy Edwards, Council on Aging of Ottawa
Louise Brunelle is chair of the older drivers sub-committee at the Council on Aging of Ottawa (COA). Louise says, “Driving gives older people independence and flexibility—a tried and true way to get where we need to go. Safe mobility in the community is paramount to aging well. However, we must remember that driving, although convenient, is not the only way to maintain that mobility.”
As we age, our physical and mental abilities change. Some of those changes—including our vision, hearing and ability to react quickly—can affect our driving. It is important to evaluate these changes early and often, to understand how our ability to drive is affected, and then take steps to ensure we can continue to drive safely. Watch the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA)’s informative video at caa.ca/driving-safely/senior-drivers/how-aging-can-affect-driving. It explains some of the physical and mental changes that happen as we age that can affect driving.
One of the first signs that vision is an issue is feeling uncomfortable driving at night. This is because our pupils get smaller as we age and don’t dilate as much in the dark, making it harder to manage glare and see things such as road signs and people walking along the side of the road. Cataracts and other common eye conditions related to aging make night vision problems worse. You might decide not to drive at night by arranging outings during the day and using public transportation, a taxi, an Uber or a lift with a friend when you do need to go out after dark.
Should we give up driving at a specific age, such as 75 or 80? The answer, which is backed up by the research is clear: It is not a driver’s age that matters, but their health.
“I agree with that,” says Louise. “You may have a degenerative disease or health event that affects your ability to drive safely at age 60 or you may be healthy enough to drive safely at age 85. For example, one of my family members had to stop driving because of the impact of a degenerative condition, not because of his chronological age.”
Driving education courses for mature drivers are helpful. The COA promotes and hosts practical learning events including the 55 Alive Driver Refresher Course and CarFit Clinics. These courses help you sharpen your road skills, increase your confidence on the road and improve the fit between you and your car. See For More Information below for details and how to find a course.
Proper automotive maintenance is also paramount to safe driving. While it can be expensive, avoiding maintenance and needed repairs or replacements (especially regarding tires and brakes) will compromise your safety and that of others.
Winter driving is demanding at any age. Being prepared and on top of your driving skills becomes even more important.
Winter Driving Tips from the COA Older Driver Sub-Committee
Taken from Ontario Winter Driving: ontario.ca/page/winter-driving
Before you leave
• Check the weather forecast. If it looks bad, delay your trip if you can.
• Use Ontario 511 to check road conditions and where plows are on provincial highways.
• Clear all ice and snow from your windows, lights, mirrors and roof.
On the road
Slow down and stay in control
• Many winter collisions happen because drivers are going too fast for road conditions.
• Don’t use cruise control– it reduces your reaction time and vehicle control.
• Steer gently on curves and in slippery conditions. Hard braking, quick acceleration and sudden
gear changes can cause you to skid.
• It takes longer to stop on slippery roads. Keep extra space between you and other vehicles.
• Stay back and never pass working snowplows and other winter maintenance vehicles.
Stay alert and focus on the road
• If the asphalt looks black and shiny it could be covered in ice. Remember that shaded areas, bridges and overpasses freeze earlier than other sections of road.
See and be seen
• Use your full lighting system in poor visibility and whiteouts. If conditions become dangerous, pull over
safely and wait for the weather to improve.
Let’s Talk About It and Get Involved
“I am always amazed by how safe driving is so rarely discussed,” says Louise. “We would love to hear from Fifty-Five Plus readers and older adults in the community about your experiences and concerns. Also, we are looking for volunteers to join the older drivers sub-committee and to work at CarFit Clinics. (You will receive training for your role as a technician.)
In addition to offering skill-building events, the busy older drivers sub-committee:
- Stays ahead of new topics such as technology and initiatives from the Ministry of Transportation and Safer Roads Ottawa.
- Provides older adults with practical tips and information about new developments.
- Participates in research projects such as Sensor Networks for Safe and Engaged Mature Drivers (SENSE-MD) with Carleton University and the National Research Council.
- Offers the opportunity to learn and take action with like-minded volunteers.
If you would like to be involved, please contact Louise Brunelle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For More Information
Winter driving: Ontario ontario.ca/page/winter-driving;
CBC Video: youtube.com/watch?v=lOmEKdBV1Rg
Older drivers: CAA seniors driving portal: caa.ca/driving-safely/senior-drivers/
Ontario senior driver’s licence (video): youtube.com/watch?v=mWJFDUg-CkY
CarFit: This free half-day event suggests tips to improve the fit between you and your car. See caa.ca/driving-safely/senior-drivers/carfit/. Contact the COA for news about upcoming CarFit clinics.
55 Alive Driver Refresher Course: This 2-day course ($30) includes a 55 Alive workbook developed by the Canada Safety Council. Search online for “55 Alive Ottawa” or contact the COA.
Sensor Networks for Safe and Engaged Mature Drivers (SENSE-MD): carleton.ca/sense-md/ This innovative research will help provide older drivers, their families and health practitioners with information to improve their driving and to help decide whether they are still able to drive safely.