September 26, 2011

To Drive or Not to Drive? Decision: Drive, but Cut Way Back and Follow Tips for Senior Drivers

That's my decision... for now. The Department of Motor Vehicles may have a different decision when I appear for a hearing on whether to suspend my license as a result of the car crash.

The crash was a definite warning signal that I should cut back on my driving. First of all, I need to pay attention to the tips for older drivers from the American Automobile Association (AAA). They appear at the end of this post.

But I have a checklist of my own:
  • Use the car only for local driving on familiar streets to familiar locations.
  • Don't drive on superhighways.
  • Be particularly cautious when changing lanes. The close calls I've had in recent years have always come from starting to change lanes without checking my car's blind spot.
  • Make much more use of public transportation. I live two blocks from a bus stop where I can catch a bus that takes me through the heart of downtown DC with stops within easy walking distance ot the Mall, its galleries and museums (with their free admission!). I'm also just a short, familar drive away from a Metro subway stop that gives me direct access to most of the metropolitan area.
  • Don't turn down offers to help. For example, a friend and I have had season subscriptions for years to the downtown Studio Theater. On theater nights -- since he lives closer to the theater -- I would drive into town, pick him up, and then try to find a parking spot near the theater.  He has offered to come out and pick me up in the future. I quickly and gladly accepted his offer.
  • Keep more distance between my car and the car ahead of me.  The car crash clearly showed me that my reaction time and judgement is not what it used to be.
  • Make more use of taxis. I've been doing that already. What I need to do when I get a good cab driver is ask him (or her) for his phone number so that I can contact him when I need a cab.
  • Admit that I'm an old man and am only going to get older. For years people have flattered me by saying I look 10 years younger than I am. Many of my close friends are 10 to 20 (or more) years younger than me. All of this, combined with our cultural fixation on youth, has led me to kid myself into thinking I can act like a younger man. Time to get real!

Special Challenges for Older Drivers
What follow is taken from a Johns Hopkins Health Alert (which is free and worth subscribing to. See
Older drivers have special challenges when it comes to safe driving. With age comes a gradual reduction in muscle mass and a decline in the availability of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. These changes can disrupt your concentration and increase the amount of time it takes to evaluate and respond to information.

In addition to common age-related changes, older drivers may also have a medical problem that can affect driving. For example, an eye problem such as cataracts, glaucoma or macular degeneration can reduce the field of vision, blur vision or decrease the ability to adjust to low-light conditions or glare.

Conditions such as arthritis or Parkinson’s disease can make it difficult to maneuver a car or turn your head to check for surrounding vehicles. What’s more, a variety of medications can cause drowsiness, dizziness or confusion, which can affect driving.
AAA's Tips for Older Drivers
Here's AAA's check list:
  1. Schedule an eye exam. The American Optometric Association recommends that adults ages 19 to 60 receive an eye exam at least every two years, and that those over 60 have their eyes checked annually.
  2. Review your medications with your doctor, and be alert for any side effects that may interfere with your driving.
  3. Avoid driving at night, when visibility is low.
  4. Avoid driving during rush hour.
  5. Avoid risky left turns by making a series of right turns instead.
  6. Make sure that your steering wheel, seat and mirrors are all properly adjusted, and that you’re able to completely depress the gas and brake pedals.
  7. Make sure you can move your head and neck comfortably so you can check your blind spots as well as side traffic.
  8. Always wear a safety belt, even when you’re just making a quick run to the store.
  9. Take a driver’s safety course to refine your skills and possibly lower your insurance rates. AARP offers a course that can be taken either in-person or online.
Additional resources: For additional information on safe driving, visit To learn about the “CarFit” program developed by the American Society of Aging, AARP, AAA and the American Occupational Therapy Association, visit


Linda Fernandez said...

Good decision, John, and not just because of your age. People in the USA drive way too much, contributing to all sorts of environmental and infrastructure problems. Kurt and I decided to go carless 5 years ago and are determined to remain that way. So far so good in several different cities: Austin, TX; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and now Fort Worth, TX. We walk (long distances, too!), rely on public transportation, and, when necessary, rent a car. And Kurt bikes to the grocery store and other venues here in Fort Worth. We're doing our bit for the planet, staying in shape, and savings lots of money on car maintenance, insurance, gas, etc. 

Mswope99 said...

I am happy that you are going to do this for your own safety as well as others. You don't have to give up driving all together just enjoy being chauffeured around.