Six driving tips for baby boomers

Rita Colorito

With more than 2 million baby boomers -- Americans born from 1946 to 1964 -- turning 65 this year, U.S. motorists are getting grayer. By 2025, one-fourth of all U.S. drivers will be 65 or older.

While older drivers often get a bad rap, statistically they are among the lowest risk groups when it comes to car accidents and deaths. It’s not until seniors pass age 75 that their driving risk (and car insurance premiums) start to match those of teens, the riskiest age group when it comes to accidents and car insurance premiums.

But as they age, baby boomers face challenges that could affect their driving abilities, says Dr. John King, program director at the National Institute on Aging's Division of Behavioral and Social Research and an expert on older drivers.

car insurance for baby boomers
With more than 2 million baby boomers -- Americans born from 1946 to 1964 -- turning 65 this year, U.S. motorists are getting grayer.

If you’re a boomer, follow these six guidelines to help you drive safely -- and keep your car insurance premiums down.

1. Take care of your vision.

Most boomers anticipate vision problems as they age, and many compensate accordingly by changing when, where and how they drive, King says. Nighttime causes the biggest issues as we age, particularly glare from streetlights and headlights.

“Ask about anti-reflective coatings to reduce glare and improve night vision,” says Julie Lee, director of AARP’s Driver Safety Program. “Don’t use eyeglass frames with wide, heavy temples; they may restrict side vision.”

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends getting your vision checked every one to two years if you're 65 or older. “Ask if you should get separate glasses for day and night driving,” Lee says.

2. Educate your eyes.

In combination, decreases in visual sharpness, visual field -- the total area where objects can be seen on the side (peripheral) vision while you focusing on a central point -- and cognitive function (ability to process thoughts) have the biggest effect on an older driver's performance, according to the National Institute on Aging.

To develop ways for older drivers to compensate for these changes, researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham studied something known as your “useful field of vision” -- the area where you can gain visual information in a brief glance without moving your eyes or head.

The researchers found older adults tend to have a smaller useful field of vision than younger adults. Furthermore, the researchers discovered, older drivers with impairment of at least 40 percent in their useful field of vision were twice as likely to be in a car crash within the next three years than those without similar impairment.

Your useful field of vision can be improved, though. Drivers who participated in 30-minute “speed of processing” training for five days a week improved their useful field of vision by as much as 60 percent, researchers found.

Since 2009, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has recommended useful-field-of-vision training with DriveSharp "brain training" software. DriveSharp was developed by a company called Posit Science.

3. Enroll in a driving safety course.

Completing a driving safety programs for seniors, such as those offered through AARP, can earn you a discount of 5 percent to 10 percent on your car insurance premiums. In many states, car insurance discounts are mandatory for drivers who've completed such courses.

4. Get your hearing tested.

After age 50, you should have your hearing evaluated every three years, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. While hearing problems aren’t a major cause of accidents among senior drivers, some seniors don't follow the guidelines for getting a hearing checkup every three years.

5. Check your medications.

Periodically review your medications with your doctor or pharmacist to see how they might affect your driving. Some drugs are labeled with warnings about drowsiness and not operating "heavy machinery," such as your car, while taking them. Meanwhile, some medications might not be dangerous when taken alone, but could be dangerous when taken with other drugs.

“For any new medication, see how you react to it before attempting to drive,” Lee says.  “Make sure you are free of any harmful side effects before driving, or plan other ways to get around.”

6. Sharpen your reflexes.

As we age, stiff joints and weak muscles may slow our reactions in dangerous situations, such as a car crash. To boost reaction time, increase the distance between your car and the car in front of you as you get older, King says, and start hitting the brakes earlier when you need to stop your car.

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