It’s easy to recognize when we’re sharing the road with a dangerous driver. Forgetting to indicate a turn, making a sudden lane change, stopping short or just swerving a bit even on a straight road—these actions tell us to keep our distance and stay extra alert if that car gets a little too close. However, when we are the culprits of unsafe driving habits, it’s much easier to be more forgiving of our small mistakes…
“Jeez, that stop sign came out of nowhere, someone should really look into that!”
“These lines need to be re-painted; how can anyone possibly see what lane they’re in?”
“The speed limit is only 25? The sign back there said 45!”
When Unsafe Driving Becomes a Bigger Problem
Most drivers are guilty of making little mistakes at any age, especially when we’re just starting out. However, for older adults, some age-related changes can make it more difficult to maintain safe driving habits. It’s never easy to know when to hang up the keys for good, but if you’re starting to feel less confident behind the wheel or a family member has indicated some concern, it may be time to consider whether driving is still the safest option to get around town.
Here are 5 signs it may no longer be safe to keep driving, plus 10 tips on what you can do to safely manage these challenges if they’re just starting to seem like an issue:
1. Hearing Loss or Changes in Vision Are Making It Harder to Navigate
Many older adults experience some level of hearing or vision changes as they age. These changes can be gradual or sudden, affecting everyone differently over time. Depending on the severity, it may be necessary to, at a minimum, change driving habits to reflect these changes.
- When poor vision is just starting to feel like an issue, consider only driving during the daytime. With reduced visibility in the evening, it can be much safer to change your routine and only get behind the wheel when it’s still bright enough to see signs, pedestrians and obstacles on the road.
- If hearing loss is making it harder to hear car horns or police sirens, try sticking to residential roads. Because these areas are less congested and have a slower speed limit, you’ll be much less likely to miss an important alert.
2. Feeling Confused or Less Familiar with Directions Are Making You Frustrated
There are many reasons a once-familiar road may start to seem completely foreign. Whether a new construction project has totally changed the landscape, or a new medication has your mind feeling a little foggy, you may want to rethink driving yourself around if you’re more prone to getting lost.
- Anyone can be subject to a little disorientation, especially in a new or less familiar town. Try planning your trip ahead of time or using a GPS to provide directions in real-time or bring a friend who knows the area particularly well to provide some direction.
- Know the difference between being “a little mixed up” and genuinely confused. If memory loss or cognitive decline is an issue, driving can be a seriously dangerous activity and is not an appropriate transportation option.
3. Noticing More “Close Calls” or Driving Tickets Than Before
If you find yourself stopping short, just barely avoiding a fender bender, it may be a sign that your reflexes aren’t what they used to be. Additionally, if you’ve been pulled over more often, maybe for “crossing the double-yellow” or for “going 45 in a 25,” this could suggest you’re having trouble controlling your vehicle.
- Visit a specialist to assess your reaction time, motor skills and attention span. Some of these issues can be managed with mental and physical exercises but may require a break from driving in the meantime.
- Talk to your prescriber about any medications you’re taking, and whether they have side effects that could affect your driving habits. In some cases, you may be able to reduce or discontinue those prescriptions under appropriate supervision.
4. Other Drivers Seem Agitated by Your Habits Behind the Wheel
Always take cues from the other drivers on the road, especially if you don’t feel like you’re at fault. If drivers are constantly passing you or honking at you, it could indicate you’re doing something unsafe, whether you realize it or not.
- Enroll in a mature driving course to refresh your driving knowledge and make sure you’re up to date on current rules of the road. After all, it could all just be a misunderstanding, easily addressed by just improving on some basic skills. There are several options for adult driving classes in Monument and throughout El Paso County.
- Bring a loved one on a drive with you, ideally in a non-congested area with a slower speed limit. Ask them to be honest about how you’re doing and whether they feel safe with you on the road. Listen to their feedback, as some of their concerns may have solutions while others may not.
5. Feeling Tense, Anxious or Uncertain While Driving Around
How do you feel when you’re driving? If you’re feeling uneasy, insecure or just unsafe, follow your instincts. Because there are many ways to get from point A to point B, driving does not need to be your main mode of transportation if it doesn’t feel safe.
- If you’re primarily uncomfortable driving long distances, but don’t mind short trips around town, look for alternatives for longer trips, like taking the bus or having a loved one drive.
- Consider enlisting the help of a caregiver to run errands for you if they’re available. If this is not a reliable option for you, a move to independent or assisted living may be ideal, since these communities provide all the accommodations you’re used to, like full-service dining, salon and spa services, and fitness centers.
The decision to stop driving is never easy, but needs to be taken seriously
Whether you’re considering it for yourself or a loved one, there are often many factors at play that ultimately determine whether it’s safe to keep driving in your later years. In the end, the choice is not just about whether its safe for the driver, but for everyone on the road.
If multiple criteria on this list are already an issue, or some attempts listed here have already failed to make driving habits safer, it is time to talk about what it may take to give up driving for good.