I can’t think of any other physical activity in life which regularly pairs teenagers with the elderly other than driving. Every day, on superhighways and rural roads alike, cohorts of every age demographic follow, pass, and turn, without regard to who is behind the wheel of the vehicle ahead, behind or to the side.
I am a happy, healthy, fit, 71-year-old retiree, who has gladly left behind a one-hour commute each way into the city of Philadelphia. I now live in a semi-rural area, where, one might suppose, driving would not be an issue – but it is!
The years spent listening to endless audio books behind the wheel and always feeling like my life was wasting away, have not relinquished their hold on me. Another enduring event occurred a few years ago when my husband was a patient in a city hospital. Daily trips down a long, narrow, numbered street off Route I-95 with its bicyclists, darting street-crossers, and the “stop-sign-oblivious” vehicles at every corner inflated my driving anxieties.
I tell my friends and family that I do not fear illness as my eventual cause of death. I fear a giant black SUV or luxury 4×4 truck crashing into the back of my little, white, energy-efficient Subaru Impreza.
My distaste for driving plays out in taking “the long way” to the city, if I must go. This involves avoiding I-95, and going through the interminable suburban ring-neighborhoods of Philadelphia. My fears also transfer to my husband when he is driving on freeways, especially the New Jersey Turnpike approaching New York City.
I endure those rides with eyes shut tight. However, he’s not such a “big shot” himself, because it is me who must drive across bridges when we travel to New Jersey, because of his new fear.
We are all familiar with stories of taking the keys away from mom or dad. I was in the same situation myself, just a few years ago. No one is asking for my car keys. But there was one life changing event, which has made me re-examine my driving, I’m happy to say!
To get to our home, one must get in the left lane of a highway to access the country road adjacent to our development. One evening at dusk, I was driving home from a restaurant, and literally went about 25 feet past the road as I was making the left turn. Befuddled as to where that country road went, I stopped, and fell prey to the oncoming cars, turning just in time. Something had to be done.
Most of the emphasis on senior drivers is with the elderly and the infirmed. Those with too many crashes, near misses and dents on their vehicles will certainly need to endure “the talk” with their families.
However, anyone over the age of 65 should do some reflection. Most of my friends in this age range would heartily agree that they don’t like to drive at night or drive fast on a highway.
The National Institute on Aging lists many declining physical abilities which can contribute to impaired driving: stiff joints and muscles, which make it hard to turn the head; decreased peripheral vision which affects reading road signs; impaired hearing, preventing reaction to horns and sirens; slower reaction time; and possible cognitive decline.
To save my marriage, and to change my behavior, I enrolled in the AARP Smart Driver Course. For a fee of $26.95 for AARP members, one can enroll in an on-line course which results in a helpful reduction in the yearly auto insurance premium. There is only one catch – the course is 8 hours long, and there is no way to speed up the slides. All have a timer at the bottom of the screen, so you can’t press “return” until the allotted time has passed.
At first, I thought I would not be able to endure the slow pace of the content. But I soon found that there was valuable information that was new to me in the areas of safe driving strategies, physical issues related to driving, reduction of distraction, and new technology in later model cars, such as lane departure, collision warnings, and blind spot alerts.
I think “being forced” to stay with the content because of the timer makes the information stick. I’m sure a venerable institution such as AARP created this course with the help of neuroscientists.
Although I completed the course many months ago, I feel incredibly more confident in my driving. I am not embarrassed to take the “long way” to avoid highways, as it was one of the suggestions. I pull over to set up a podcast on a long drive, rather than toggle between my phone and the road. And, I keep eating and drinking to a minimum, and give tractor trailers double the distance I used to give, when I pass.
The NHTSA, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, offers several suggestions to senior drivers, which align well with the AARP Smart Driver course. It is important to stay physically active, as driving requires a lot of movement and highly functioning sensory input. If you have a newer car, take time to learn how to use the unfamiliar technology.
Avoid busy traffic times and poor weather when traveling. Always give yourself more time than you need. Avoid the distractions of talking, eating and listening to the radio or internet when driving in challenging conditions.
This organization also offers a Self-Assessment, if one is not sure there is an issue that needs addressing. The American Occupation Therapy Association offers in-person assessments by driving habilitation specialists for those with more significant impairments.
I can’t say that the Black SUVs and 4x4s don’t scare me anymore, but I’m less likely to be impacted if I’m minding my own business in the right-hand lane, without a cup of tea in my hand during daytime hours!
Are you a driver? Have you noticed any difficulties or fears creeping in lately? What are you doing about them? Would you consider taking a refreshing course?
Tags Getting Older