Q&A regarding senior-driver safety

The AARP offers a national Driver Safety Program for senior citizens through organizations such as area senior centers. The program is the nation’s first and largest classroom driver-refresher course specifically designed for motorists age 50 and older.

As a service of the AARP program,the Web Site www.aarp.org offers the following frequently asked questions and answers about senior-driver safety:

— How does the process of aging affect my driving ability?

The common aging factors that affect driving are loss of visual acuity, diminished hearing, changes in physical strength, psychological changes and slower reaction time.

Research shows a direct link between the kinds of driving problems experienced by older motorists and the physical changes that can occur in all older people.

The loss of vision, hearing and physical strength is gradual and can go virtually unnoticed until older drivers are faced with a driving emergency that they are no longer able to handle.

— What are some of the common vision problems for seniors?

Common vision problems affecting driving are sensitivity to bright light, focusing ability, nearsightedness, farsightedness, decreased depth perception and peripheral vision, cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration.

— What does physical strength have to do with driving ability?

Improving physical well-being can improve driving skills by increasing flexibility. Through exercise, seniors can prevent fatigue while driving and make it easier to steer, back up, check mirrors and look to the sides.

– What are the major driving concerns for seniors?

Problem situations include failure to yield the right-of-way, improper left turns, blind spots, entering and leaving expressways, backing up and reaction-time difficulties.

— Isn’t it true that motorists age 55 and older have good accident records compared with younger drivers?

Research indicates that drivers age 55 and older are 25 percent of the driving population but have only 18 percent of the accidents. However, drivers age 55 and older generally drive fewer miles each year than younger drivers. Therefore, when annual miles driven is considered, drivers age 55 and older do better than younger drivers, but not as well as drivers age 35 to 54.

– Are all the restraints provided in cars these days, such as automatic safety belts, lap safety belts, air bags and child safety seats, really necessary?

Yes, safety belts are very important protection in all accidents, including side impacts. Air bags provide protection in head-on collisions, and child-safety seats are good for use with grandchildren, who are not old enough or large enough to correctly fit in the car’s safety-belt system.

— What safety features should seniors look for in a new car?

Some of the important features to consider are safety belts, air bags, brighter exterior colors for better visibility, a larger car, anti-lock brakes, head restraints, side-view mirrors on both sides of the car and an adjustable front seat.

— When should I limit or give up driving?

All drivers will someday have to change driving patterns as they move into higher-risk driving ages.

Drivers of any age are responsible for their own safety as well as the safety of passengers, other drivers and pedestrians.

Seniors should regularly reevaluate their driving abilities. This can be done by truthfully taking stock of personal abilities, such as vision, hearing, reaction time and flexibility, before getting into the driver’s seat.

Our physical capabilities do not allow all of us to drive safely forever. It is strongly recommended that seniors investigate transportation alternatives in their communities before the time comes to use them.

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