You’ve probably been driving for decades, which can be a benefit; experience matters on the road. But time behind the wheel can lead to ingrained bad habits, too. You also may not notice when your skills are diminishing. Here are some ways to remain a safe driver.
1. Get refitted
Are you sitting the appropriate distance from the steering wheel? Are your mirrors adjusted properly? Would elevating your seat help you see traffic better? You’ve probably been driving a certain way in your car for long enough that you don’t recognize bad habits. Attend a free virtual workshop from CarFit, an educational program created in collaboration with AAA, AARP and the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). In 90 minutes, CarFit instructors will show you how to take proper measurements to improve your visibility and vehicle control. Sign up for a workshop at car-fit.org.
2. Keep your body fit
You may be sitting, but driving can be a physically demanding activity. There is a reason race car drivers train like athletes or why we often feel exhausted after a commute through heavy traffic. “Staying active is a really good thing to do because it reinforces that mind-and-body connection,” says Sarah Pearcy, a certified self-assessment facilitator for older drivers. “It helps with your balance and your strength.” Be sure to keep up, or boost, your fitness routine. A good guideline is to get 30 minutes of light cardio or resistance strength exercise per day.
3. End the multitasking
If you’ve been driving for many decades, you may feel you can do it without thinking. And so you may fuss with your phone, play DJ, drink coffee, tinker with the navigation system or get into deep conversations while still driving. All of these put you at greater risk of accidents, particularly as your reaction time and overall vision decrease. Older drivers take their eyes off the road for eight seconds longer than younger drivers when adjusting or tapping on the navigation system, AAA researchers found. “There are no super multitaskers,” says Jake Nelson, director of traffic safety and advocacy for AAA. “Somebody who is over 65 and exposed to the same distractions will struggle more with managing that distraction.” Every day, eight people are killed in car crashes involving a distracted driver, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Make a conscious effort to focus more on the road and less on everything else.
4. Get better acquainted with your car
Car technology has advanced rapidly in recent years, with lane-drifting alerts, parking sensors and other safety features. But many older drivers whose experience behind the wheel spans decades may not use all the tech their car has built in. Take AARP’s free online Smart DriverTEK workshop to learn about how modern safety technology works. Go to aarp.org/sdtek to sign up for a virtual workshop with a live instructor or to take a self-guided online course.
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5. Do a quick safety check
Be more conscious about taking your time before starting your drive. “We’re more at risk if we hop in the car and go, and we just don’t take a minute to adjust our seats, adjust our mirrors and make sure our seat belts are on,” says Elin Schold Davis of the AOTA Older Driver Initiative. It also helps to think through your route before setting off. If you’ve ever taught a teenager to drive, you know how diligent you were about making sure everything was just so. Do that for yourself, too.
6. Increase your distance
It is important to keep pace with traffic, but a little extra space between you and other cars can’t hurt. Remember the three-second rule: Pick a stationary object alongside the road ahead. Note when the back of the car in front of you passes the object. The front of your car should come to that object at least three seconds later.
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7. Get monitored
In the past few years, insurance companies have offered potential rate discounts to drivers who outfit their cars with a monitoring device. Another helpful aspect of these programs is that you can receive feedback on your driving. So if you’re speeding, driving too slowly, taking corners too quickly, accelerating too quickly or slamming on your brakes, you will learn this in your driving report. That can help you correct bad habits or behaviors before you end up getting a ticket or causing an accident, says Penny Gusner, senior consumer analyst for CarInsurance.com.
8. Take a driving improvement course
Driver’s ed isn’t just for teenagers. Courses like the AARP Smart Driver online course can teach you updated strategies to deal with real-life situations, give you tips for maintaining your vehicle and teach you defensive driving techniques. By taking such a course, you may also get a discount on your auto insurance. To learn more, go to aarpdriversafety.org.
9. Make pain go away
Sometimes driving can cause discomfort, especially in the neck, shoulders or hands. And that in turn can make driving more difficult. If you experience persistent pain in the car, you should make an appointment with an occupational therapist who specializes in driving, Schold Davis says. Such a professional can also help you identify adaptive features that can be added to your car, as well as other adjustments that can be made. For instance, if you have upper-body arthritis and have trouble reaching for your turn signal, “they can move your blinker,” she says. “There are solutions to these problems other than living with it and just being in pain.”