Driving is a complex, fast-paced activity. For senior drivers, reaction time depends on your ability to process information in the driving environment (sense), use that information to choose an action (decide) and react based on your decision (act). Completing these three steps quickly requires a sharp mind and a fit and flexible body.
While the single most effective way to improve driver reaction time is to exercise your mind and body, there are ways to compensate for slower reaction times and eliminate driving distractions.
- Increase your following distance. Senior drivers should allow a greater distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you, so you’ll have more time to slow down or stop.
- Minimize left turns. Senior drivers age 65 and older are over-represented in crashes involving left-hand turns. If possible, make three right turns to avoid making a left. Or try to use intersections with designated left-hand turn lanes. These are much safer for drivers of all ages.
- Eliminate distractions inside the vehicle. Adjusting radio volume, using a cell phone and interacting with passengers can distractions for any driver. Keep the environment inside your vehicle as calm as possible, eliminating driving distractions.
- Plan your route before you get behind the wheel. Doing this will help senior drivers avoid making any last-minute decisions about which way to turn or how to reach your destination.
- Try to steer clear of busy highways and congested traffic. High-speed driving can be stressful, so don’t hesitate to use local roads instead of highways. Also try to avoid rush hour traffic or highly congested areas. More vehicles on the road translate to a greater likelihood of a collision. Senior drivers should also consider using public transportation if it’s available to you.
- Review your medications. Older drivers should remember that prescription and over-the-counter medications can slow reflexes, blur vision and cause drowsiness or dizziness, causing additional driver distractions. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about making adjustments that aid in safe driving. If you have serious muscle or joint impairments, ask your doctor about anti-inflammatory drugs that can help permit safe driving.
- Stay awake and alert. Drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving and distracted driving. Be sure to get enough sleep before a long trip and take frequent breaks along the way.