Dear Savvy Senior,
What tips or resources can you recommend to help seniors with their driving skills? My 84-year-old mother is still a capable driver, but she has declined a little in recent years and could definitely use some help.
With more and more Americans driving well into their 70s, 80s and beyond, there are lots of tips, tools and programs available today to help elderly seniors drive safer and longer. Here are several that may help.
Schedule an eye exam: Because about 90 percent of the information necessary to drive is received through our eyes, this is a good first step in ensuring your mom’s driving safety. So get your mom’s eyes checked every year to be sure her vision is up to par.
Check her meds: Does your mom take any medicine or combination of medicines that could impair her driving? A new resource that can help with this is Roadwise Rx, an online assessment tool at roadwiserx.com that provides personalized feedback on how the medications your mom is taking can impact her safety behind the wheel.
Evaluate her driving: A do-it-yourself driving assessment is a simple way to help your mom get a handle on her driving abilities and vulnerabilities. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has some great resources on their website to help with this. Just go to seniordriving.aaa.com, click on “Evaluate Your Driving Ability” then on “Self-Rating Tool” and have her take the Drivers 65-Plus self-rating exercise. Then, click on “Interactive Driving Evaluation” and download the AAA Roadwise Review. This is a free confidential online screening tool that will test her vision and reaction time, which are very important for safe driving.
Take a refresher course: AARP and AAA both have older driver refresher courses that can help your mom brush up her driving skills, and learn how to manage and accommodate common age-related changes in vision, hearing and reaction time. Taking a class may also earn her a discount on her auto insurance. To locate a class contact your local AAA (aaa.com) or AARP (aarp.org/drive, 888-227-7669). Most courses cost under $20 and can be taken in the classroom or online.
Another good resource to look into is CarFit. This is a free assessment program that will help your mom adjust her vehicle for a better fit, making it easier and safer to drive. CarFit events are held around the country in select locations. See car-fit.org to look for one near you.
Get a professional assessment: If your mom needs some extra help, consider getting a professional assessment done by a driver rehabilitation specialist. They will evaluate her driving ability and test for things like reaction time, decision-making skills, as well as how well she and her car fit together, pinpointing trouble areas and offering solutions. This type of assessment can cost several hundred dollars. To locate a professional, contact the Association of Driver Rehabilitation Specialists (driver-ed.org, 866-672-9466) or the American Occupational Therapy Association (www.aota.org).
Make some adjustments: Recognizing vulnerabilities and adapting her driving habits to compensate for them can go a long way in helping keep your mom safe and driving longer. Some simple adjustments include not driving after dark or during rush hour traffic, avoiding major highways or other busy roads, and not driving in poor weather conditions.
It’s also good to know if there are any older driver’s license renewal provisions in your mom’s state, which you can get by calling her nearby driver’s license office or at iihs.org/laws/olderdrivers.aspx.
When to quit: If it gets to the point that your mom’s driving isn’t safe anymore and she needs to quit, The Hartford Financial Services Group and MIT AgeLab provides online resources and free publications like “We Need to Talk: Family Conversations with Older Drivers” that you can access at safedrivingforalifetime.com.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or go to SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.