If you think that you’re a great driver, you probably aren’t. If you’re confident in your skills but understand that you need to keep learning from experience, you’re probably a good driver. Changes in traffic volume, technology and even the law mean that there are always new challenges. Those challenges are especially relevant for an increasing number of drivers: the elderly.
Years ago, getting to retirement age or beyond meant settling down to a quiet life at home. There were few elderly female drivers, because that generation of girls had grown up being passengers. Older people might hope that family would visit, but would rarely make the journey themselves. Now things are very different. Older people expect to be active for longer. They want to travel or to do part time and voluntary work. More women who are at retirement age learned to drive when they were young and had their own cars throughout their lives. But this increased number of older drivers can cause problems. To make sure that you’re not making life worse for other road users, here are some simple tips.
Get your eyesight and hearing checked regularly.
Lots of older drivers stick to familiar routes: to the shops, the grandchildren’s school, the doctor’s surgery. But if you know what you’ll see around every corner, it’s much harder to realize when your eyesight is letting you down. You might know every inch of the road, but that won’t help when a child runs in front of you. And don’t forget that good hearing makes driving safer too. Plenty of hearing-impaired people drive safely, but if you’ve had good hearing for most of your life you won’t realize what information you’re missing until it’s too late.
Accept that your reaction times have got slower.
It’s a fact of life: almost everyone slows down as they get older. It takes your brain a fraction longer to process information, and your muscles a little more time to respond. This doesn’t mean you’re incapable of driving safely, but it does mean you should take extra care. Is that gap in the traffic really big enough for you to merge safely? Will you be able to stop in time if those traffic lights change to red? You don’t have to make other road users unhappy by going everywhere at a snail’s pace. It’s rather like being a new driver again: you need to think a little more about what’s possible.
Assess your attitude.
If you think that every other driver on the road these days goes too fast, then the problem might not be with them. If people are sounding their horns and driving close behind you every time you go out, they’re certainly being aggressive, but their reaction might not be completely due to their personality. Stop thinking that everyone else has a problem, and ask yourself honestly if you’re causing some of these issues.
Embrace new driving technology.
Modern cars are safer than ever before, while features such as assisted maneuvering and lane control make driving easier and more pleasant. Yet many older drivers are suspicious of new technology. They make excuses about how they don’t understand all these gadgets and prefer a good old-fashioned car. Yes, it can take a little longer to master new tech when you’re older, but it’s not impossible, and it could save lives.
Ask your passengers to be honest with you.
There are millions of adult drivers who dread being a passenger in an elderly relative’s car but never say a word about it. They feel that it’s rude to be critical, or that an elderly driver is too set in their ways to change. Instead of having them silently endure a journey with you, tell them that you want to carry on being a safe driver for a few more years, but that you need their help in identifying problems that need fixing. Point out to them that saying, “Oh no you’re fine” doesn’t help anyone, and that anyone, at any age, can always improve. Listen to what they say and work to address the problems, then ask them if you’ve improved. If you’ve not got family or friends you can ask, most driving instructors are happy to spend a couple of hours assessing you and won’t be shy about giving you recommendations.
There are more elderly drivers on the road than ever before.
Getting older doesn’t automatically make you a bad driver, but the fact that you’ve been driving for fifty years doesn’t make you a good one either. Check your eyesight and hearing, and wear glasses and hearing aids if you need them. If it seems like everyone else on the road behaves badly, consider that you might be part of the problem and get feedback from passengers you trust. And remember that driving safely doesn’t always mean driving slowly, but it does mean allowing enough time to look, listen, think and react.