Driving can sometimes be challenging for older adults. Follow these safety tips for older drivers, from taking good care of yourself to planning ahead and updating your skills.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Driver safety requires more than understanding road signs and traffic laws. As you get older, you'll likely notice physical changes that can make certain actions — such as turning your head to look for oncoming traffic or braking safely — more challenging. Still, older drivers can remain safe on the road. Consider seven tips for older drivers.

Staying physically active improves your strength and flexibility. In turn, physical activity can improve driver safety by making it easier to turn the steering wheel, look over your shoulder, and make other movements while driving and parking.

Look for ways to include physical activity in your daily routine. Walking is a great choice for many people. Stretching and strength training exercises are helpful for older drivers, too. If you've been sedentary, get your doctor's OK before increasing your activity level.

Some senses, such as hearing and vision, tend to decline with age. Impaired hearing can be a concern for older drivers by limiting the ability to hear an approaching emergency vehicle or train. Common age-related vision problems — such as cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration — also can make it difficult to see clearly or drive at night.

Ask your doctor how often to schedule vision and hearing tests. Even if you think your hearing and vision are fine, stick to your doctor's recommended exam schedule. Problems might be easier to correct if caught early.

Work with your doctor to manage any chronic conditions — especially those that might impact driver safety, such as diabetes or seizures. Follow your doctor's instructions for managing your condition and staying safe behind the wheel. This might include adjusting your treatment plan or restricting your driving.

It's equally important to know your medications. Many drugs, including pain medications, sleep medications, antihistamines and muscle relaxants can affect driver safety, even when you're feeling fine. Read your medication labels so that you know what to expect from each one. Don't drive if you've taken medication that causes drowsiness or dizziness. If you're concerned about side effects or the impact on driver safety, consult your doctor.

Consider your physical limitations and make any necessary adjustments. For example, if your hands hurt when gripping the steering wheel, use a steering wheel cover that makes holding and turning the wheel more comfortable. You might ask your doctor for a referral to an occupational therapist, who can offer assistive devices to help you drive or suggest exercises to help you overcome your limitations.

You might also adjust your vehicle or choose a different vehicle to better meet your needs. For example, vehicles that feature larger, easier-to-read dials on the dashboard are often popular with older drivers.

You can improve driver safety by driving during the daytime, in good weather, on quiet roads and in familiar areas. If visibility is poor, consider delaying your trip or using public transportation. Beyond road conditions, make sure you're in optimal condition to drive. Don't drive if you're tired or angry — and never drive after drinking alcohol.

When you get in your vehicle, be prepared. Plan your route ahead of time so that you don't need to read a map or directions while driving. If you use a GPS device, enter your destination before you start driving. If necessary, call ahead for directions. While you're driving, don't do anything that takes your focus from the road — such as eating, talking on your cellphone, texting or adjusting the radio.

Consider taking a refresher course for older drivers. Updating your driving skills might even earn you a discount on your car insurance, depending on your policy. Look for courses through a community education program or local organizations that serve older adults.

If you become confused while you're driving or you're concerned about your ability to drive safely — or others have expressed concern — it might be best to stop driving. Consider taking the bus, using a van service, hiring a driver or taking advantage of other local transportation options. Giving up your car keys doesn't need to end your independence. Instead, consider it a way to keep yourself and others safe on the road.

Jun. 26, 2014