Three weeks ago, I completed a four-hour online safe driving course that saves me around 3 percent of my car insurance premium for three years. I can complete the course every three years and keep the discount in force indefinitely. Based on that experience, Iâ€™m not sure that the course itself made much of a difference in my driving skills. It was full of mostly very general information that Iâ€™ve been told over and over again in National Safety Council and other public service announcements. It was a review of what Iâ€™ve been taught all my life about being the best driver I can be and avoiding accidents.
Why do insurance underwriters give a break to those of us who are willing to take such a course?
Maybe itâ€™s that those of us who will sit in front of a computer screen for four hours are more likely to be compulsive enough to follow at least some of those instructions about adjusting all our mirrors, keeping our windshield and windows clean, maintaining our car properly, keeping that three-second cushion between ourselves and the next car, etc., etc., than folks who wonâ€™t.
Shortly after I finished the course, I saw the news coverage of 97-year-old Prince Philipâ€™s unrestrained (no seatbelt) collision causing injury to two others when he failed to see their car because of glare. The saga continued a couple of days later when the prince was seen driving again, still not wearing his seatbelt, despite being very recently â€śeducatedâ€ť about the legal requirement to do so.
The prince is certainly not the usual person who is unlikely to follow those lifelong reminders about safe driving. But he may be the poster child for some drivers who need more than voluntary self-education courses in safe driving.
Driving, for most of us, represents independence and freedom. It is a privilege and a responsibility aging amateurs want to maintain for as long as possible.
Age-related changes affect our ability to drive safely. Linda Ercoli, a geriatric psychologist at UCLA says â€śPeople typically donâ€™t realize how much their reflexes slow down and their vision changes.” Those two issues are likely most responsible for Prince Philipsâ€™ accident. They are also among the most important issues not assessed in the online safe driving course I took.
Self-awareness is key to being safe on the road. Without it, we are potentially exposing those who drive around us to increased risk of a fender-bender or worse.
So, if you are a senior who drives, you should have a vision assessment annually and more often if you notice increasing difficulty driving at night, whether due to decreased visual acuity, glare or difficulty judging distances. Recognizing problems with reaction time is difficult but very important. Here is where listening carefully to those who are in the car with us is likely to be helpful. Asking the question gives those who love us and donâ€™t want to hurt us permission to give us information that is sometimes difficult to hear.
While it doesnâ€™t take much strength to drive a car, you still need some strength, coordination and flexibility to do it. Do you recognize increasing fatigue with short drives, is it hard to look in all the directions needed to see what is going on around you? Troubles in these areas can often be addressed by your family physician or an occupational and/or physical therapist.
Be honest with yourself about changes in your driving abilities and limitations. Have you already limited your driving only to certain times of the day? Do you avoid certain roads due to how busy they are or a high speed limit or just unfamiliarity? If so, this tells you that further evaluation of your driving skills is needed. Hospital occupational therapy departments often have driving simulators to assist with this evaluation.
CarFit is a free educational program developed by the American Society on Aging, in cooperation with AAA, AARP and the American Occupational Therapy Association. The 12-point checklist helps insure proper fit of the driver to the car to improve driver safety, the safety of others and may enable you to stay on the road longer. Visit car-fit.org to watch short videos that address each issue.
So, take a safe driving course (I took the AARP Smart Driver Course which costs about $25), especially if it will decrease the cost of your insurance (ask your agent).
Donâ€™t forget your annual vision evaluation.
Think carefully about whether you have limited your driving and why, and consider a Car-Fit evaluation.
In other words, do whatever you can to be a safer older driver. As youâ€™ve heard many times before: The life you save may be your own or someone you love.