Aging drivers should take time to adjust to changes

Published 9:54 pm Saturday, December 17, 2011

As Baby Boomers make their way into their golden years, more and more senior drivers will be hitting the road.

This year, the first of the Baby Boomers will turn 65, and the U.S. Census Bureau predicts this part of the nation’s population will increase by 75 percent over the next two decades.

Additionally, research shows people are living seven to 10 years beyond their safe driving ability.

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With this in mind, it is important for aging drivers to stay sharp to keep the roads safe.

“In less than 10 years, one in four licensed drivers will be age 65 and older, which means that millions of American families will be working through this challenge,” Georjeane Blumling, vice president of public relations for AAA Tidewater Virginia, said in a news release.

Aging can have a number of profound effects on driving ability, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

As things like eyesight and reflexes go through the aging process, it is important to keep track of those skills.

NHTSA recommends senior drivers ask themselves questions to assess whether or not they are fit to drive, such as “How is my eyesight?” and “Do I have control of the vehicle?”

If a driver is having trouble reading signs or handling headlight glare at night, he or she should make sure to wear up-to-date prescription eyewear and sit high enough in the driver’s seat to be able to see the road for at least 10 feet in front of the car.

Drivers also should keep windshields, mirrors and headlights clean and ensure headlights are working and aimed correctly.

In addition to troubles with eyesight, loss of strength, coordination and flexibility can make it harder to do simple things in the car, such as turn to check a blind spot.

NHTSA suggests drivers having problems controlling their vehicles should look into physical therapy or exercise programs, reduce the blind spots by moving the mirrors and listen for sounds outside of the vehicle to help with awareness.

The agency also recommends aging drivers consider cars with automatic transmissions, power steering and brakes, and other special equipment if they aren’t using it already to make it easier to drive.

To reduce confusion or nervousness during driving, motorists should take routes they know well, avoid driving during rush hour, keep a safe distance between their car and the vehicle in front of them and stay alert to be ready for problems.

In addition to taking personal precautions, many organizations, including AAA and AARP, offer mature driving classes.