Driving Safety Tips: Keep Older Drivers Safer, Longer

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Right now, millions justifiably fear an aging relative is a deadly hazard on the highway, as drivers over 65 are involved in about 6,000 fatal accidents each year. Meanwhile, seniors are petrified of losing their driving privileges and thus their independence. Here are some tips that may help an older person be a safer driver for many more years.

Schedule An Eye Exam
If you can't see, it's impossible to drive well. For some, driving difficulties can be cured by simply updating the prescriptions for their eyeglasses. More serious eye problems require the attention of an ophthalmologist. Today's eye care offers options -- including several forms of laser surgery -- unimaginable two decades ago.

Get Driving Glasses
Some have found that "blended" bi- or tri-focal eyeglasses don't provide the field of vision necessary for driving. A pair of eyeglasses dedicated to driving may be required.

Make Sure The Car Fits
People lose height as they age. A booster seat and pedal extensions may provide shorter seniors with a better view of the road.

Get A Smaller, Taller Vehicle
Some older drivers find a smaller vehicle is easier to maneuver in traffic and park. Consider vehicles that have a higher -- but not too high -- seating position, such as a small crossover SUV. In addition to an enhanced view, some find it easier to climb into a slightly taller vehicle.

Limit Hours And Locations
Aging eyes have difficulty adapting to low or changing light levels. Eliminating night and twilight driving will limit risk. Also, it reduces the temptation to drive after consuming alcohol. Some seniors may find it easier if they avoid driving during rush hours or on fast-moving highways.

Prescription Drug Problems
Some prescription drugs -- or combinations of drugs -- make driving difficult for anyone. Get all drugs from one source. Ask the pharmacist to determine if any may cause difficulty driving and to check for possible drug interaction problems.

Go To Driving School
There are several excellent driver training programs aimed directly at older drivers. These include AARP's 55 ALIVE Driver Safety Program (www.aarp.org/55alive) and "mature driver" courses offered by AAA (www.aaa.com).

Visit A Geriatrician
Doctors who specialize in working with older patients often spot trouble that relatives and friends overlook, and they can offer solutions for specific problems. A visit to a specialist is especially important for those who have had a stroke or exhibits signs of dementia.

Termination Options
If a senior must stop driving, it requires a lot more than just "taking the keys." First, the person will need transportation. If a relative or friend can't be enlisted as an on-call chauffeur, public transportation must be found. One alternative: Some limousine companies offer lower-cost service during off-peak hours. The driver will wait while the client goes shopping, gets her hair done or has lunch with a friend. Next, the car must be removed from the senior's access. A temporary fix: Remove the starter fuse and leave a note in the fuse box explaining why it has been taken.

Senior driving safety will be a growing concern in the United States. There are some estimates that in two decades about 20 percent of the population will be over 65, and one of the fastest-growing segments is for those over 85.