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How changes in the body, driving laws, and new car technology affect your driving ability
One out of every three licensed drivers is over the age of 55. Fortunately, statistics show that mature drivers are the safest drivers because they are experienced, knowledgeable and responsible. To maintain this high standard, older drivers need to be aware of the factors listed below.
Your body changes
A natural part of the aging process involves changes in sensory organs of the body. Look for changes in these areas.
Vision: Any change in your vision should be immediately checked out by an eye specialist. Many vision changes can be halted or compensated for if discovered early enough.
Peripheral vision: What you see out of the corner of your eyes can diminish as part of the natural aging process, or due to eye disease. Compensate for this problem by turning your head more often to observe traffic on both sides of your car or truck.
Depth perception: Your ability to judge distances may not be quite as good as it once was. To compensate for this, leave more room between your car and the car in front of you. Use a three second rule: when the vehicle in front of you passes an object, count slowly to three and see at the end of three seconds if you pass that same object. If you pass the object sooner than three seconds, you may be following the car in front of you too closely.
Night vision: Your ability to adjust to low light conditions and to recover from the glare from the headlights of other cars may diminish because your eyes may not be able to focus as quickly, or because of the effects of medication.
- At the age of 45, you need four times as much light to drive as you needed when you were 19.
- At the age of 55, you need eight times as long to recover from glare as when you were 16.
If nighttime driving is a problem, plan errands or events for the daytime, or get someone else to drive.
Clarity: Fine detail such as the writing on road signs or the numbers on the speedometer may become more difficult to see. If you have trouble seeing the wording on road signs or details seem "fuzzy" a consultation with an eye specialist will often lead to a practical solution.
Hearing high frequency sound: The ability to hear sirens and horns is important, but may become more difficult as you get older. Modern cars with interiors well-isolated from road noise compound this situation. Lower the volume on the radio and check your mirrors more often to see if emergency vehicles are near.
Mobility: Aging often affects your joints and muscles. Stiffness, pain, and loss of strength make driving more difficult, in addition to less enjoyable. You can improve your strength and flexibility by exercising regularly (follow your doctor’s recommendations). Also, devices such as power steering, larger mirrors, and automatic transmissions may make driving easier for you.
Reaction time: As you age, your ability to react quickly to changing conditions diminishes. Give yourself more time to react to other vehicles and road conditions.
Medication: Prescription drugs and medications sold over the counter, such as decongestants and cold remedies, may cause drowsiness, impair hand/eye coordination, and affect judgment. Be especially cautious when taking medicine for pain and arthritis. Alcohol often intensifies the effects of medication! Be sure to read all warning labels on the medication you take and ask your pharmacist or doctor about precautions to take before getting behind the wheel of a car.
Car technology improves
Air bags: Most new cars are equipped with driver’s side air bags which inflate within a fraction of a second following a collision. When used in conjunction with a seat belt, air bags reduce traffic fatalities by 45% - 55%. Passenger side air bags are also available on many cars.
Anti-lock brakes (ABS): Many new cars are equipped with this device that prevents the brakes from locking. This makes braking on wet highways and snow covered roads faster, skid free, and much safer. Most automobile insurance companies will offer reduced premiums to their customers who drive cars with air bags, anti-lock brakes, and automatic seat belts.
Traction control system: Some new cars are equipped with this feature that controls wheel spin. When in operation, the wheels will not spin as easily when accelerating on slippery roads covered with rain, snow, or ice. You will often be able to simply drive out of a situation where you would normally get stuck. If not standard equipment, traction control may be available as an option.
Halogen head lights: Almost all cars are now equipped with these lights which are much brighter than head lamps used years ago. These lights greatly improve low light, nighttime driving conditions. Many companies make halogen head lamps that fit older cars. This is an inexpensive way to improve your ability to see at night.
Tires: Tire companies are continually developing tires that create better traction, even when roads are wet or icy. Tires built now are much more puncture and blowout resistant than those built years ago.
Your tires are the only connection between your car and the pavement. At 60mph, 352,000 ft/lbs of energy (you and your car) is controlled by four tires that contact only about one square foot of road.
Good, high traction tires that are resistant to punctures do not cost much more than lower quality tires. This is an area where buying carefully and spending a little more for quality can literally be a lifesaver.
Questions? Contact us: Wisconsin DMV email service
Last modified: September 17, 2012
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