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Ways to Improve Driving

Overview

Mobility is a key component in any individual’s quality of life. For most age 50+ drivers it has been a long time since they were in a driver’s education program. There are ways, however, to improve driving skills and respond to the changing conditions of today’s driving environment.
 
This page provides information on some common driving errors, driver education and training, and individuals who can assist with driver rehabilitation.

Common Driving Errors
Traffic signalOne of the major problems for many older drivers is making left turns because it can be difficult to accurately judge the speed and distance of oncoming cars.  
 
Other common driving issues/errors for 50+ drivers include:
  • Driving at night and during inclement weather 
  • Merging into traffic, i.e., right of way
  • Changing lanes
  • Navigating roundabouts 
  • Yielding to traffic
  • Following traffic signals
  • Driving impaired (prescription and over-the-counter medication)
Distractions
Man talking on cell phone while drivingA major cause of traffic accidents is drivers not paying attention. Researchers estimate that a person makes 200 decisions for every mile of driving. The majority of those decisions are automatic, which lulls us into thinking driving does not require our full-time attention. Driving is complicated and unpredictable. Cell phones, GPS devices, and other in-car devices can prevent someone from giving their full focus to the driving task. 
 
In Oregon, it is illegal to talk or text on a cell phone or other handheld device. Adult drivers must use a hands free device when using a cell phone. Research, however, has shown that even the use of hands-free devices (headset, speakerphone or other device) do not eliminate the distraction of the conversation. If a driver must make or take a call, the best strategy is to pull over when and where it is safe to do so.
 
Many 50+ drivers also install GPS devices, which can be invaluable in making sure that they get to his or her destination. However, they can be distracting if the driver is paying more attention to what is on the GPS device than the roadway. Like cell phones, if it is necessary to pay attention to the GPS device, then pull over when and where it is safe.
 
To learn more about driver distractions visit the U.S. Department of Transportation’s distracted driving Web site.

Driver Education and Training
For most drivers over the age of 50, it has been many years since they last took a driver education or training course. Just as you tune up your car, it may be time to tune up your skills.
 
Driver education and training resources available in Oregon include the following:
  • Oregon provides an age-based discount on car insurance for qualifying individuals who take courses approved by the Oregon Department of Transportation.  
  • Professional driving schools provide instruction for all drivers. To find a driving school near you, look in the yellow pages of your telephone book or by using an Internet directory or search engine. You may also view a list of DMV certified commercial driving schools.
  • The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Senior Drivers provides tips for driving safely.
  • The AARP Driver Safety Program is the largest refresher course for drivers age 50 and older.  To find a course near you or take the course online, visit the OR AARP Web site and use the search box in the upper corner of the page.
Exercise and Fitness
JoggerA severe injury in a crash is more likely when we are older because our bodies are more fragile. Staying fit and healthy can lessen the impact of aging. Keeping in good shape also promotes mental alertness, which is another important skill in safe driving. Exercise can also reduce arthritis pain, anxiety, and depression. 
 
Resources to help Oregon 50+ drivers stay fit and well include the following:
  • The Aging and Disability Resource Connection of Oregon (ADRC) has a Web page devoted to healthy living that includes tips for staying fit, eating healthy, ways to manage your health, and how to stay connected.
  • The National Institute on Aging’s Exercise and Physical Activity: Getting Fit for Life publication provides tips on getting and staying fit.
Driver Evaluation and Rehabilitation
Occupational Therapists
An occupational therapist is a health professional specializing in evaluation and treatment of various diagnoses that limit functional independence, which can include driving. Recovery after an injury to your hand, wrist, elbow, or shoulder can be difficult, as can recovery from a knee or ankle injury. An Occupational Therapist can help you return to your work, sporting and home activities.
 
After receiving a doctor’s order, the occupational therapist will generally evaluate the following:
  • Range of motion
  • Strength
  • Sensation
  • Coordination
  • Skin and/or wound condition
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Functional postures and body mechanics
The Occupational Therapy Association of Oregon's Web site provides information on occupational therapy resources throughout the state.

Driver Rehabilitation Specialists
A driver rehabilitation specialist (DRS) evaluates a client's driving skills, recommends rehabilitation as needed, and can suggest vehicle and/or route modifications such as avoiding left hand turns to enable the person to resume or continue driving safely. The Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists can assist with finding a driver rehabilitation specialist in your area.

Related Information
Additional information that may be relevant includes:
  • The AAA Foundation provides a report on Enhancement of Driving Performance Among Older Drivers. 
  • The AARP Web site on driver safety includes information on driver safety courses, a quiz on rules of the road, safe driving tips, and other driver safety resources.
  • The National Institute for Health's Senior Health Exercise for Older Adults Web site provides information on fitness and exercise.
  • The NHTSA Older Road Users Web site provides updated information of interest to older drivers, passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists, including new research and outreach materials.