It's a fact of life: As people age, their physical abilities diminish. But there are things older drivers can do to make sure time doesn't erode their ability to drive safely.
Insurance companies recognize people often drive more carefully as they age, says Pete Moraga, spokesman for the Insurance Information Network of California.
"(Older drivers) aren’t as risky as young drivers. They know their limitations," Moraga says.
Drivers also often spend less time on the road as they age, which reduces accident risk, says Dave Melton, managing director of global safety for Liberty International insurance.
"Most older drivers -- and I am one of them -- will begin to limit the amount they drive," says Melton, who is 67.
Julie Lee is vice president and national director of driver safety for AARP, the advocacy group for people age 50 and older. She says many elderly people reduce their chances of having a car accident by driving when traffic is light and staying off the road during rush hour.
Although seniors are generally cautious when they drive, they can still follow these five tips to make wise decisions and drive safely as they age.
1. Take care of your health.
A recent study by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety attributes a decline in accidents involving seniors to improved health. Since 1997 drivers age 70 and older have seen bigger declines in fatal crash rates than drivers age 35 to 54, the institute reported in February 2014.
You can be 100 years old and still be a safe driver if you’re in good health, Lee says.
2. Go back to school to get an insurance discount.
A refresher driving course can reinforce good driving skills. Throughout the country, AARP and many state departments of motor vehicles offer senior driver training courses. Information about such classes can be found on AARP’s website.
Graduates of such classes may receive auto insurance discounts. Michael Barry, a spokesman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute, says this training can lead to car insurance discounts of 10 percent annually.
Before enrolling, check with your insurance company to find out if a discount will apply to your policy, Lee says.
3. Review your medications with your doctor.
Medications are helping people live longer, but some have side effects that impair motor skills and make driving hazardous, Melton says. If you’re taking prescription medications, go over them with your doctor to make sure none will negatively affect your driving.
"You really need to be sure that you look at the warnings that are on the medications," Lee says.
According to AARP, side effects from medications can include blurred vision, inability to concentrate, drowsiness, dizziness or general muscle weakness. The AARP website recommends that seniors:
- Never take medications prescribed for another person.
- Don't mix medications unless told to do so by a physician.
- Find out their reaction to a new medication before attempting to drive while taking it.
- Never drink alcohol while on any medication without first consulting a doctor.
4. Drive a car that fits you and your needs.
Working with the University of Florida, AAA in March 2008 created a list of automobile features that make driving safer and more comfortable for seniors. It recommends that seniors use:
- Thicker, adjustable steering wheels that are easier to grip and allow you to put the wheel at a comfortable level.
- Adjustable seats with lumbar support to make driving more comfortable.
- Power mirrors and large dashboard controls that make driving easier for seniors with arthritic hands.
- Four-door vehicles. These cars have smaller doors that require less strength to open than those of two-door cars.
5. Take care of your vision.
You may have great judgment behind the wheel, but it won't do you any good if you can't see where you're going, Melton says. As people age, it becomes increasingly important to have their eyes checked regularly. The American Optometric Association recommends annual eye examinations for everyone over age 60.
The AOA warns as drivers enter their 60s, they should watch for warning signs of age-related eye problems. Signs to look for include:
- Not seeing road signs clearly.
- Difficulty seeing close objects, such as your car's dashboard.
- Problems seeing at night.
- Difficulty seeing past oncoming headlights at night.
- Decreased peripheral vision, which makes it difficult to see the sides of the road.