A driver’s licence brings the sweet promise of independence and freedom at 17, but decades later, you may have to concede and hang up the car keys for the last time. It’s also a life milestone, but not a joyful one.
Many older drivers recognise that they are not enjoying driving and are not coping with difficult situations. They make a gradual transition to not driving. They stop driving at night and avoid peak hour traffic and highways. Instead, they stick to familiar routes and local areas.
These moves can keep you driving safely for longer, but the time still may come when you or a family member needs to stop driving completely. How will you know?
The Queensland Government website lists some of the changes that can come with aging and will impact driving ability. For instance, your vision can deteriorate. You may not see pedestrians or cyclists as well as you did previously. You may not be scanning for the unexpected.
Night vision or peripheral vision can deteriorate. You may have trouble changing your focal length from looking at things up close, such as a crossing sign, to what’s in the distance.
Be sure to have an annual eye test. Keep your windscreen clean and wear sunglasses during daylight.
Physical condition will affect driving ability too. If you have a stiff neck, you may not scan the traffic to your side as frequently as in the past. If you have knee pain, using the pedals quickly can be awkward.
Driving requires muscle strength, flexibility and quick fluid responses.
You need to process information quickly: How fast is that bike travelling? Is that child about to step out on the road?
If your mental processing slows, it’s hard to make safe choices quickly. Your slow reaction time can annoy other drivers too. They will let you know with tooting horns which only adds to the stress of driving.
The RACQ offers a useful service to help seniors stay safe on the road. It’s called The Years Ahead program. It’s a free 45-minute presentation for community groups and at retirement villages.
The motoring club recognises that many seniors first learnt the road rules more than 50 years ago. Much has changed. We have merging lanes and roundabouts.
The RACQ presenter will review the road rules, tell you about medical reporting and allow plenty of time for questions. To book a talk for your group, call the RACQ Community and Education team on 1300 853 658.
In Queensland, the law requires that any driver over 75 must have a medical certificate. This certificate is usually valid for a year. If your doctor approves you to keep driving, this will show as an M on your licence.
Your doctor may put certain conditions on your licence such as daytime driving only. You will need to carry this certificate with you when you drive and show it to police if asked.
There is another resource your doctor can help with.
Many driving schools offer driving assessments for older drivers.
On the Sunshine Coast, Roadwise Driver Training runs this service.
Director Michael Stibbard conducts about 20 driver safety assessments with older drivers each month. Each is done in a dual control vehicle. Mr Stibbard meets the driver at their own home and returns them there.
The driving assessment takes about 45 minutes. The assessor looks at a range of factors, including how well you respond to traffic conditions and how you operate the controls of the car.
Afterwards he puts together a report for your doctor who will decide whether you can keep driving or not.
Kendall Morton is the Director of Home Care Assistance Sunshine Coast to Wide Bay. Call 5491 6888 or email firstname.lastname@example.org