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John Bullis: Safe driving ideas for older adults

John R. Bullis

Driving gets more difficult as we get older. Our reactions may be slower as our physical and thinking functions decline. There are more distractions now than there used to be. Of course the roads are more congested and there are a few dangerously aggressive drivers out there.

It is reported that senior drivers are at a higher risk of having a serious collision per mile driven than any other age group has, except for those younger than age 25. On the other hand, senior drivers may drive a lot fewer miles and are trying to drive safely.

One study indicates older adults are having fewer car accidents than in prior years. It could be seniors are driving more in the daytime, on established routes, not driving in bad weather and are being less likely to drink and drive.

As we get older, we may have some physical limitations that affect our driving ability. It seems by age 60, our eyes need much more light to see as compared to when we were age 20. Pain or stiffness in the neck can make it harder to look over your shoulder to change lanes, or to look left and right and left again at intersections to check for traffic and pedestrians.

It seems to me we have a lot more crosswalks now than years ago. It is a challenge to drive in one of two lanes in the same direction and understand why a vehicle in the other lane is stopping. Is he going to turn or is there someone trying to walk across the street?

Some states are getting tougher on older drivers. Illinois now requires a road test for elderly drivers. Some states are requiring folks age 70 and older to renew their drivers licenses in person, rather than by mail or online. That is OK with me.

Good old common sense goes a long way to help older drivers be safe. Staying physically active by exercising regularly makes sense in many ways. Having your eyes checked every year by an optometrist will improve your quality of life and help make sure you can see better when driving. It is OK to plan your route before you get in the vehicle and take advantage of intersections with left turn arrows and easy parking.

I’m grateful for the improvements in vehicles we have now. The front and side air bags for the driver and all passengers are one of the improvements (in spite of the recalls). Seat belts can be adjusted for older adults’ size and weight, that’s good. The better braking systems are an improvement over several years ago when I began driving.

It is OK to ask a friend to drive you where you want or need to go. Using a taxi is not that expensive compared to having an accident. The senior living facilities are doing pretty well in giving rides to doctors and shopping.

Driving in the western U.S. is a privilege and pretty much a necessity. It is sort of like the quote from the television program “Hill Street Blues,” “Let’s be careful out there.”

Did you hear? “One of the oldest human needs is having someone wonder where you are when you don’t come home at night.” — Margaret Mead.

John Bullis is a certified public accountant, personal financial specialist and certified senior adviser who has served Carson City for 45 years. He is founder emeritus of Bullis and Company CPAs.