Programs increase senior safety and longevity in the driver’s seat.
Lynn Sigurdson still remembers the day he stopped driving at night. The 79-year-old Michigan resident had been traveling back to his cottage in fall 2014 after stopping at a nearby grocery store.
“It was after 9 p.m. and pitch black,” he said. “There was some construction and closed roads. I must have nodded off, and when I woke up, I had hit a parked construction truck. Luckily, I was OK and so was the guy who had been sitting in the truck, but my car was totaled.”
The experience shook his confidence, he said. Since then, he has tried not to drive after dark unless it’s an emergency, and he has made other adjustments. “I’m a lot more cautious than I used to be,” he said. “The accident was a real wake-up call.”
One day, self-driving cars may enable drivers of any age to stay on the roads indefinitely. Until then, there are steps mature drivers —and those of any age—can take to stay safer, longer, said Mary Lou Gallimore, manager of AAA Ohio’s Traffic Safety programs.
The Perfect Fit
Gallimore recommends CarFit, a free nationwide program developed in conjunction with the American Society on Aging, AARP, the American Occupational Therapy Association and AAA. The 20-minute, drive-up inspection, offered in hospital or senior center parking lots, gives mature drivers a quick but comprehensive “checkup” that includes questions and a 12-point list designed to determine how safely and efficiently a car and driver are interacting and to identify trouble spots. Drivers leave with recommendations for car adjustments, adaptive devices such as seat belt or visor extenders, and a list of area resources.
“Many people can’t see over the steering wheel,” Gallimore said. “Some are unaware that the recommended distance to the steering wheel with airbags is 10 to 12 inches. The proper fit can greatly increase not only the driver’s safety but the safety of others on the road.”
AAA Ohio also offers a more intensive eight-hour Mature Operator Driver Improvement program, broken into two four-hour segments. “It’s a lot like driver’s training for teenagers but targeted to older drivers,” Gallimore said. “Roads have changed, cars have changed and the people themselves have changed.”
Credit Where Due
While there are challenges, Gallimore pointed out senior drivers deserve more credit than they get. “Compared to other drivers, seniors as a group are less likely to speed, less likely to drive after drinking and more likely to buckle their seatbelts. Seniors also tend to avoid high-risk driving situations, such as driving at night on unfamiliar roads or in poor weather conditions.”
Sigurdson is a good example. Since the accident, he avoids night driving and schedules regular eye exams and general checkups. On longer trips, he stops at every other rest area to stretch his legs. “I’m not as comfortable sitting for long periods as I used to be,” he said. “I don’t push myself the way I used to.”
He’s hoping that making the adjustments as he needs to will keep him in the driver’s seat for many years to come. He doesn’t think he’ll be enthusiastic about self-driving cars, if and when they become a reality. “I don’t think I’d want to give up control,” he said. “I still like driving. But now, I just don’t take any chances.”
To learn more about AAA’s programs and resources for mature drivers, visit AAA.com/TrafficSafety.
Khristi S. Zimmeth is a writer based in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan.