By Chuck Mai, AAA
First of all, let me say that AAA’s position is that we want mature drivers to drive for as long as they safely can. To that end, the auto club provides free information and tools to the public to allow this to happen. We have free events (like CarFit, where AAA-trained inspectors make sure mature drivers are able to use safety equipment in their cars to their maximum benefit), websites (like SeniorDriving.AAA.com) and programs (like Roadwise Rx, on the SeniorDriving.AAA.com website) that help mature drivers drive more safely.
But sometimes, family members may feel like it’s time start a conversation with grandma or grandpa about driving and safety.
How can you tell whether an older driver presents a hazard on the road?
Experts agree that you can’t answer that question by age alone. Biological age and chronological age are two completely different things. Despite what many people think, mature drivers are among the safest on the road. In fact, they often voluntarily avoid high-risk driving situations, such as driving at night, making tricky left turns (by making three right turns instead) and driving in bad weather.
Nevertheless, aging affects our ability to drive in three distinct areas: visual, physical and cognitive. We need sharp vision and peripheral acuity to pick up vital cues as we drive. We need to stay flexible to look over our shoulders and turn our heads side to side, and we need strength and stamina while driving. And we need to be able to quickly mentally process what we see and hear.
If you’re a family member or friend, worried about an individual’s driving safety, these are signs your concerns may be well-founded:
- Unexplained dents and scrapes on the vehicle, mailbox or garage door;
- Showing poor judgment at intersections or having difficulty judging gaps when making left turns or at entrance and exit ramps on divided highways;
- Getting lost or confused on familiar roads or in well-known neighborhoods;
- Feeling uncomfortable or anxious while driving;
- Delayed responses to unexpected driving situations (for example, a sudden stop in traffic or a ball or object in the street);
- Difficulty staying in his or her traffic lane or traveling too far to the right or too close to parked cars;
- Increased “close calls” or “near misses”;
- Difficulty paying attention to signals, road signs and pavement markings.
For additional warning signs, visit SeniorDriving.AAA.com/resources-family-friends.