Crash rates will start to rise in our mid-60s and early 70s, then accelerate after 75. We’ll be headed to the day when someone will tell us we can no longer drive.
However, there’s no reason to stand by and let that happen. Our independence is too important to us. By being proactive, there are ways we can extend our safe and healthy driving careers.
As we age, one question should be asked when we visit our favorite, most trusted primary doctor: “Doc, is there anything going on that might now – or in the future – affect my ability to drive?”
The answer might be something generic about our vision, hearing and overall health, maybe even a comment or two about side effects or interactions of medications.
But it needs to be far more precise than that if we’re going to proactively keep in shape so we can stay on the road.
90% of driving decisions are made based on information that comes in through our eyes. Starting at age 40, our eyes’ lenses lose the ability to change focus rapidly. Our peripheral vision narrows and more light is needed to make an impression on the retina.
We have more trouble seeing at night, the glare of lights can blind us, signs are harder to read and we may not see a car coming up alongside us.
- Wear anti-glare sun and night vision glasses.
- Increase the brightness of the instruments on your dashboard.
- Keep the windshield, back window, mirrors and headlights perfectly clean.
- Add a larger rearview mirror to capture peripheral movement.
- Avoid nighttime driving: get a ride or use Uber, if you have a smartphone.
Regular eye doctor visits to check on eyeglass prescriptions, eye pressure and the onset of cataracts or macular degeneration are a given.
We should also keep updated on technology advances, including full-range cataract replacement lenses, the tiny iStent that relieves glaucoma issues by draining fluid from the eye and ‘futuristic’ gene and stem cells therapies targeting macular degeneration.
Hand-eye coordination is how your body takes visual input, processes it and directs the movements of your hands. It is critical for safe driving. It’s a complex neurological process that decreases with age, but can be slowed with specific exercises and activities.
- Avoid highway on-ramps where your perception of other cars’ speed is critical.
- Use intersections with left turn signals.
- Avoid changing lanes and passing by staying in the righthand lane.
- Stay home in bad weather where rain, ice or snow make driving harder.
Look for activities that require coordination between your eyes and hands: sports like ping pong or basketball (dribbling and shooting baskets), or video games requiring precision and detail. Call of Duty, anyone? Use a YouTube tutorial to learn to juggle, first with two balls, then with three. Do 2-D or 3-D jigsaw puzzles. Color in adult coloring books. Exercise your eyes daily with ‘near-far’ exercises, or by using a vision therapy app like Vision Tap on your iPad.
Cognition is when our minds ‘capture’ something. Comprehension is when we know what to do with it. So, both are critical for safe driving: we have to perceive external input, process it effectively and take the right action. Older brains do each step more slowly. It’s also harder to divide your attention effectively, or multi-task.
- Avoid challenging left-hand turns by taking three right-hand turns.
- Learn what intersections have left turn signals.
- Leave more distance between your car and the one in front of you.
- Minimize distractions like cell phones, radio and in-car conversations.
- Avoid rush hour when heavier traffic means more instantaneous decisions.
Always be learning! Use problem-solving skills to do crossword or jigsaw puzzles, play Sudoku, chess or bridge, learn a new language with internet-based Rosetta Stone or Babbel, take up a new hobby, anything that keeps your mind flexible. Take in brain-supportive elements like omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12 from food or supplements.