Most common hazards for older drivers

Tips on how to keep the aging boomer population safe

Published: December 03, 2013 10:00 AM

Every day, 10,000 people in the United States turn 65 and many of them are still driving. But with new-vehicle technology, and more crowded and changing roadways and landscapes, there are more challenges than ever for older drivers. Dec. 2 through Dec. 6 is Older Driver Safety Awareness Week and an opportunity to educate people on the issues older drivers face.

AARP is at the forefront of education and just finished some research into its driver safety course. The organization will start a new program in 2014 called AARP Smart Driver Course. 

"The old course focused on the issues, but the new research led us to examine their behavior and to see where some of the specific weaknesses are with our older drivers," Julie Lee, vice president of AARP, said. Some of the most common driver errors include speeding, running red lights, failure to stop at stop signs, driving in the wrong lane, and improper left turns.

AARP also found that these drivers need practice sharing the road with motorcyclists and bicyclists, says Lee. The new course will now incorporate some of these findings and is an opportunity for older drivers to brush up on their knowledge and skills to be more confident and independent on the road. In addition, AARP will be starting a driving resource center with videos on the top car technologies, so older drivers can learn what is available in new cars they may be looking to buy.

If you or your loved one is an older driver, there are many ways for you to stay safe on the road and continue to drive for many years.  Much of it has to do with knowing your physical limits and capabilities.  Here are some tips from AARP.

  1. Monitor your health. Be aware of any health changes such as vision, hearing, memory and concentration.  Keep up with regular checkups and exercise.
  2. Keep a safe driving distance.  Use the three-second rule when following another car, so you have time to react to any potential hazards.
  3. Avoid distractions.  Anything that takes your eyes off the road is a distraction and that includes cell phone use, eating, using a GPS, and adjusting the radio.
  4. Adjust your fit. AARP is a member of the Car Fit program, where a team of technicians can help set up your vehicle to make sure it “fits” you for comfort and safety. Go to Car Fit to find a location near you.
  5. Self-regulate.  Avoid driving during rush hour, at night, or in challenging weather conditions.  Keep running your errands and appointments, but try to choose daylight and less busy times to travel.
  6. Go right. Lee says instead of making a left-hand turn, make three right turns instead to get to the same place instead of crossing traffic in a busy intersection.
  7. Don’t forget to stop. At stop signs, scan before proceeding and look for pavement markings. If you are behind another car, wait two seconds until they proceed through the sign before you move forward.
  8. Check your meds.  Ask your doctor or pharmacist if medications you are taking could have an affect on your driving.
  9. Be aware of others.  Bikes, motorcycles, and pedestrians can add more challenges to driving.  Be extra vigilant in intersections and when merging. 
  10. Keep a buffer.  Have enough space around your vehicle so you have room to maneuver whether it is on the road or in a parking lot.

See Consumer Reports' article about the risks of older drivers, when to ask for the keys, and which cars are best for senior citizens.

—Liza Barth

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