It is not uncommon to see a senior hunched over the steering wheel, peering through the windshield - with eyes straining, a marked frown- all from the tension of driving.
When the elderly person is a parent or close family, questioning his driving skills is a very sensitive issue. It is extremely heart wrenching to have to decide that your loved ones may be a danger to themselves and others if they continue driving.
AdvertisementNot only practically but emotionally too, it is very difficult for the elderly to give up their independence. How does one keep up with doctor appointments, or weekly outings for movies and dinners? After losing on health and maybe friends, loss of independence will be a major issue.
But when it concerns a family member's safety - their driving ability will need to be gauged - even if it is one of the hardest things grown-up children need to do for their parents.
There are some seniors who can drive safely when they are into their 80's while for others, even at the age of 65, driving can become a problem.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds that accidents with drivers above 65 years of age are very common and death due to crashes among the 80 plus is also seen to be above average (This could also possibly be due to their fragile bodies).
Experts feel that you cannot attribute poor driving skills only to age as older drivers are more safety conscious - they won't drive without their seat belts and will not drink and drive.
How do you decide when a person should stop driving - there are simple guidelines one can follow:
General Health: As a person ages there is a loss of muscle strength with neck stiffness; this makes it difficult to maneuver and also to pivot the head to check for traffic before changing lanes. Pain in the legs and knees makes it difficult to move the foot to the brake on time.
Weakness in the arms makes it difficult to rotate the steering wheel effectively. Slow reflex actions mean that the driver will take that essential split second longer to stop for an errant pedestrian.
Vision: Good vision is one of the most important requirements for safe driving, and as a person advances in age, deterioration in vision is inevitable. Older people are prone to eye disorders like cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration. Getting eyes tested every year and making sure corrective lenses are worn will help. The windshield and mirrors should be kept clean to prevent obstruction to vision.
Hearing: Most people start facing hearing problems after 65 years of age. Though this is a very gradual loss, it can weaken the ability to hear car horns, sirens and screeching tires - sounds that put a driver on high alert; dilution of these sounds can cause accidents.
Use of Prescription Drugs: Many drugs which are prescribed for age-related ailments can, in combination with some over-the-counter medications, cause blurred vision, confusion or tremors. The family physician will need to be consulted so that he can discuss all the possible side effects of the medications that people above 65 generally take.
Alcohol: Drinking and driving are dangerous at any age but when one is older, the combination is a disaster on the brink. Alcohol remains for a longer period in the system of older people and the person should stay off the roads and should not be allowed to drive.
Signs of Driving Problems: Following are some of the signs that could indicate that a person is having a problem with driving:
• An increase in the number of traffic tickets dents and scratches on the car.
• Craning forward while driving, missing traffic signals, bumping into other cars while parking
Our elders should also be instructed against freeway driving, driving at night or driving during rush hours.
Hanging up the Car Keys: After a life of independent driving, it is utterly frustrating to give up driving. Some suggestions that could be provided to our elders to make them feel better are:
• The money saved on insurance, maintenance and gasoline could now be used to travel by cabs.
• With no car - walking and cycling will prove to be great exercise.
• When you ride with friends and acquaintances, your social life will get a boost.
At times, a senior or parent can be very stubborn and refuse to stop driving, and no amount of rational explaining can convince him even at the risk to the safety to his life and that of others on the road. Extreme steps will be needed like disabling the car. It is wretchedly painful but safer.