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March 2, 2013

From the Office: Ensure you are safe when you take to the roads

By Frances Wright
The Daily Star

---- — The ability to drive is something that most of us count on, whether it be to get to work, shopping, medical or other appointments, visiting friends and family and any number of other activities. When the vehicle or the driver is out of commission, life can certainly be more difficult.

Most drivers can benefit from a periodic skill refresher. As we age, other factors may intervene that make driving more difficult. It is important to identify any limitations and see what can be done to mitigate the negative impact of these limitations The good news is that there are things that we can do to help us to minimize risk and increase safety.

One thing to consider is signing up for a driver’s safety course. These have varying costs and are offered through AARP, AAA and other entities, both in classroom settings and online. In addition to these courses there is a lot of other good information available. 

I came across the AAA Senior Driver website,, the other day. It contains a wealth of information and tips that can help to decrease risk and improve safety. The site contains several tools to help you identify areas that may need improvement. 

One tool is a “Self-Rating tool.” It contains 15 questions that when answered give an indication of your driving ability as well as suggestions for improvement. Included in the suggestions are to be sure to use side and rear view mirrors and to talk to your doctor about ways to increase flexibility so that you can look over your shoulder. If intersections are troubling, plan trips for the least busy time of the day. If making a left turn without a light, turn right and make two more rights instead. Another suggestion not included in the self-rating tool is, at a right-on-red stoplight, if you sense your reaction time is slower, wait for the green light.

Also on the website is an interactive driving evaluation that covers strength and mobility, flexibility, visual acuity and memory and other factors. AAA Roadwise Review can be downloaded, or you can contact an AAA office to obtain a CD-ROM version.

If you are concerned about how changes to your mind and body affect driving, information is available. Keeping both physically and mentally fit are important factors in maintaining driving ability.

Another important factor is whether the vehicle you are driving is a good fit for you. Things like six-way seat adjustment and a low threshold can be important. There is a downloadable brochure and vehicle list titled “Smart Features for Older” drivers. There is also an interactive tool that allows you to select features that are important to you that results in a list of vehicles that contain those features. The features are suggested for a variety of specific limitations, but I’d suggest you look at all and check the most important to you. You may want to start with the most important and then add others and see how the list changes. In experimenting with it, I found that checking things like adjustable foot pedals limited the vehicles listed.

Under the car-fit section, there are a series of short videos that will help you to know how to position your seat, seatbelt, mirrors and steering wheel in the best position for you. For example, you should sit 10 inches away from the steering wheel to give the airbag the time and space it needs to expand in an impact, and you should be able to see at least 3 inches over the steering wheel.

If, after exploring adjustments in your vehicle, you’re still not set right, there may be some adaptive equipment that could help. It is important that you consult an expert and use only devices designed specifically for a vehicle.

Driving is a privilege and doing so safely is a responsibility we all share. I’m always impressed when I hear of someone who makes the decision to either limit or totally stop driving. There are resources on the website to help us know when it is time to stop, as well as how to have conversations about driving and what resources are available.

Most Offices for the Aging offer some transportation for those 60 and older, although it may be limited. Otsego County residents are welcome to contact the Office at either 547-4232 or 432-9041 on this or other topics.

Frances Wright is director of the Otsego County Office for the Aging. ‘Senior Scene’ columns can be found at