Even those who cut back on driving often find themselves behind the wheel for extended periods during the summer. But drivers who haven't spent a lot of time on the road recently may find that everything from short rides to longer vacation trips aren't as easy as they remember.
"Things aren't what they used to be," says Donna Galasso, director of traffic safety for Garden City-based AAA New York. "Cars aren't the same. Traffic isn't the same. Your body isn't the same."
To compensate for getting older, many seniors limit their driving for various reasons. A recent AAA survey of drivers 65 and older found that 61 percent said they won't drive in bad weather, and half said they don't drive at night.
"Their concern is keeping the keys for as long as they can," Galasso says. "They want to drive, and we want to keep them driving for as long as safely possible."
AAA has revamped its website with several new features aimed at seniors. At seniordriving.aaa.com, there are numerous tips as well as an online test that can assess your crash risk. You can also download Roadwise Review, a free Windows-based program that features computer-based exercises aimed at helping drivers reduce their risk of accidents. Galasso notes that the website is a good resource not only for seniors but for adult children concerned about their parents.
Even seniors who feel comfortable driving need to take precautions. For example, a normal part of aging is the narrowing of peripheral vision, making it more dangerous to change lanes. One way of compensating is by slightly turning your head more frequently. Also think about installing a rearview mirror with a larger field-of-view. And make sure to adjust mirrors each time you get in the car. The mirrors may not have changed their position, but you may have changed yours to compensate for assorted aches and pains.
Galasso says try to avoid situations that were once mundane but are now fraught with peril. Nearly a third of all accidents involving older drivers occur as they attempt a left turn. If there's no dedicated left-turn traffic signal, a workaround is to drive around. "Make three right turns to avoid a left," she says.
If you represent a senior or community center and would like to have an AAA representative speak about driver safety, call AAA New York at 516-746-7730. There is no charge for this service.