When To Give Up Driving

As people grow older, muscles become weaker, joints stiffen and reflexes can slow down, too. Combined, these effects can make steering, emergency braking and even simply looking over your shoulder more difficult.

You may also find that your hearing and vision (particularly night vision) become less effective. While the dangers of driving with impaired vision are obvious, impaired hearing may be less so, but the dangers are that you may not hear a warning from another motorist's horn, or an approaching siren on an emergency vehicle.

So what steps can you take to make it safer for you, your passengers and other road-users? And, at what stage should you give up driving?

The mind changes as we age

Proper concentration can be harder to maintain, and reaction times can increase. It can also become more difficult to make instant decisions while driving.

Medical conditions that can affect the way we drive

Alzheimer's disease - can cause memory loss, slower reaction times, problems judging space and distance, and impaired ability to plan ahead. It can also put a person at greater risk of getting lost, getting confused by one-way streets and even being involved in an accident

Arthritis - its painful joints can limit your ability to look in the mirror or over your shoulder. It can also be difficult to grip the steering wheel properly or bend the knee to push the brake pedal

Diabetes - can damage the nerves in your hands, feet and eyes. And there's the danger of a drop in blood sugar level, causing dizziness or shakiness, confusion or even loss of consciousness

Parkinson's disease - causes rigidity, slowed movement and tremors which may affect your ability to steer and make quick movements

Stroke - may cause balance problems, diminished vision and loss of muscle control.

Medicines may have side-effects

Both prescription and over-the-counter medicines can cause drowsiness or increase reaction times. As we age, we become more sensitive to these effects. Check the labels of antihistamines, sedatives, depression and diabetes drugs, and strong painkillers for drowsiness warnings.

When is it time to give up?

* If you're an older driver, ask yourself the following questions, and be honest with yourself when you answer them:

* Have you been involved in any preventable accidents, or perhaps picked up one or more tickets for road traffic offences?

* Have any of your passengers remarked that they no longer feel safe with you at the wheel?

* Have your preferred drivings speeds become appreciably lower?

* Has your attention been wandering while you're behind the wheel?

* Have you been making more sudden, erratic manoeuvres than you used to?

* Do your reactions seem slower?

* Are drivers often sounding their horn at you?

* Have you missed road signs, lights or directions?

* If you know an older driver, keep an eye out for any of the above signs. But trying to make them take action can be difficult. Try the following:

* Emphasise that your prime concern is your safety (and those around them)

* Help them to see their limitations

* Offer positive alternatives such as lifts and taxis, and emphasise the savings from not running a car

* Make sure they understand that they are not the only one faced with this difficult decision. Many thousands of people give up driving each year

A gradual or sudden decision?

Just because you are getting older doesn't mean you need to give up driving and sell your car. Instead, try to minimise your exposure to dangerous situations, by trying to drive in daylight and when the roads are quieter. Plan rest stops in longer journeys, and consider taking along someone to share the driving.

How to keep driving safely

1. Keep fit - physical fitness improves strength and flexibility

2. Get regular eye and hearing tests - your GP can advise how often these should be

3. Understand the effects of the medicines you are taking - ask your doctor for advice about any that may cause problems

4. Check your blood sugar levels - if you have diabetes and have problems controlling your blood sugar, check your blood sugar levels before you drive

5. Consider getting an automatic vehicle

6. Avoid alcohol when driving - it has a greater effect on older drivers

All the time you can keep driving safely, you should. But be careful if you think your abilities are becoming too badly affected by ageing, medical conditions or medicine

David Williams MBE is the Chief Executive of GEM Motoring Assist, a leading road safety organisation in the UK. They offer breakdown policies for a wide variety of vehicles including cars, motorbikes and caravans and motorhomes.

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