Safety Tips for the Older Driver

It is estimated that one in every five Canadians is over the age of 65. Maintaining a driver’s licence is an important issue of independence for older Canadians, especially to those who have driven for most of their life.

On a per-person basis, mature drivers have less than the average number of collisions. But on a per kilometre basis, the over-70 age group is involved in a disproportionately high number of collisions.

The aging process brings changes that can affect the older driver’s ability to drive safely. These include: reduced vision, particularly at night; a decrease in depth perception; and movement-limiting disabilities such as arthritis and rheumatism, which slow down response. The rate of aging varies for each individual, but it is important to recognize age-related changes and learn how to compensate for them.

Hearing problems

Visit your physician if you think you have hearing loss. He/she can refer you to an appropriate specialist if you need one.

Before purchasing a hearing aid, insist on an evaluation of your hearing ability by an audiologist.

Allow time to adjust to your hearing aid. It makes sounds louder, not clearer.

Leave your car window partially open; enough to allow you to hear warning signals.

Keep car radio noise to an absolute minimum.

Place air conditioner or heater blowing units on the lowest setting, if possible.

If talking while driving distracts you, ask passengers not to communicate with you unless they must quickly get your attention. In general, it is best to concentrate more on your driving than on talking with passengers.

Right of way

Never take the right of way — even when you know it should be yours.

Never put your right ahead of your safety.

Yield to all traffic on the controlled route. Remember, yield signs mean you should slow down and give way to traffic on the road you are entering or crossing.

Yield and obey at all times, when directed to do so by a police officer.

When starting from a parked position, you must yield to all moving traffic.

If two vehicles enter an uncontrolled intersection at the same time from different directions, the vehicle on the left must yield.

Remember, the law does not really give anyone the right of way. It only says who must yield. Having the right of way does not authorize negligent or blind driving at intersections.

See and be seen

Have periodic professional vision examinations to check for vision changes, symptoms of eye disease and general health problems.

Give yourself time to adjust to new eyeglass prescriptions, especially to bifocals and trifocals. Practice with new bifocals or trifocals while the car is stationary to develop proper head and eye movement for near and distance viewing, using mirrors and checking the instrument panel.

Have your eyeglasses checked periodically to make sure that the lenses and frames remain properly adjusted for efficient vision.

If you wear contact lenses, be sure to follow instructions for proper care and cleaning.

Avoid eyeglass frames with wide, heavy temples (side pieces).When located on a level with the eyes, these can seriously restrict side vision.

Keep windshields and rear windows clean, inside and out. Replace worn windshield wiper blades and check periodically for windshield scratches and deterioration. Replace windshields that are badly scratched or deteriorated.

Use good quality sunglasses to reduce glare; grey or green ones are best.

Try to avoid driving at dawn and dusk, the most difficult time of day to see.

Following distance

Allow a minimum following distance of three seconds in good weather and more in bad weather.

Pick out a stationary object on the road ahead — maybe a bridge, road sign or pole. When the rear of the vehicle you are following arrives at the selected object, begin to count — one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three. If your vehicle arrives at the object before you have completed this three second count, you are following too closely.

Even in the best of conditions, the three second formula is just adequate. Reaction time is slower than it used to be, and most road conditions are never ideal. So always apply the minimum three second following distance to your driving.

The older driver should maintain a three second following distance during good weather and increase the following distance in bad weather.

Refresh your driving skills

Even if you haven’t been involved in a collision in 40 years, how many near misses have you experienced? It may be time to review your driving skills. With aging, changes occur in hearing, vision, flexibility and reaction time. You can learn to adjust your skills to compensate for those changes. Look for refresher driver courses in your community or contact the Canada Safety Council’s 55 Alive Driver Refresher Program at 1020Thomas Spratt Place, Ottawa, ON K1G 5L5; (613) 739-1535 or Fax:(613) 739-1566.