YOU may have been driving for decades, you may well have been driving local roads for years and years, but as we age, our reactions slow, bad driving habits are harder to break, and medications may interfere, which can make driving risky.
Drivers aged 75 or over have a higher risk (per distance travelled) of being killed in a crash than any other age group.
While the risk of crashes in young drivers is risky driving behaviour, in older drivers it is increased frailty and issues associated with ageing that create the risk.
Many older people are perfectly capable of driving safely, yet physical and mental changes that often come with ageing can affect how well older people drive.
This includes: slower reaction times, loss of clarity in vision and hearing, loss of muscle strength and flexibility, use of prescription drugs which may cause drowsiness.
Workshops for older drivers
Locally, recent driver education programs have focused on young people.
There is the L2P program to help young disadvantaged Learner drivers accumulate their required 120 hours, a strategy-making workshop for young drivers which rolled out at South Gippsland on Wednesday night and even special upskilling sessions for supervising drivers.
However, with South Gippsland’s ageing demographics, and statistics showing our older drivers are at risk, a special program is being developed for the region’s older drivers.
“The graph of crashes and fatalities shows L Plate drivers are safest when under supervision, and accidents peaking once they are on their P Plates,” South Gippsland Shire Council’s L2P Program and Road Safety Officer John Ernst said.
“That graph also swings back up as we get into older drivers.
“One of the reasons older people are seriously injured or involved in fatalities is their frailty. They don’t require a ‘big hit’ to be seriously hurt.”
A pilot session was held earlier at Leongatha to which 75 to 80 people attended and it will be expanded to other areas to assist older drivers to stay safe on the road.
Mr Ernst said since the pilot, there had been ‘no reports’ of accidents with those drivers who attended the older driver information session.
“It’s about sharing skills and contacts, being proactive in keeping our drivers safe,” Mr Ernst said.
“Upcoming workshops will include Senior Sergeant Damian Whitford and his team who can discuss traffic issues, pharmacists who can discuss medications, representatives from RACV for car safety and a local occupational therapist who will outline the older driver assessments.”
Four sessions will be held around the South Gippsland shire – once dates, locations and time has been confirmed, notifications will go out to senior citizen’s groups, Men’s Shed, Probus and other specialty groups. The sessions will also be advertised in the South Gippsland Shire Council’s weekly advertisement in the Sentinel-Times.
For more information, contact John Ernst, L2P Program and Road Safety Officer at South Gippsland Shire on 5662 9200.
Watching for warning signs
ASSESSING your driving skills, and being aware of early warning signs are the best way to make sure you’re not putting yourself, and your loved ones, at risk on the road.
This checklist, from the TAC website (www.tac.vic.gov.au), can help you assess how safe a driver you are.
• Suffer from any serious health conditions such as arthritis, epilepsy, a heart condition, high blood pressure or anxiety?
• Take medication that may impair your driving?
• Have difficulty reacting quickly to other drivers’ actions?
• Drive at inappropriate speeds, either too fast or too slow?
• Regularly need your passengers to give you directions, such as when it is clear to pass?
• Ignore or misinterpret traffic signs and signals?
• Fail to judge distances between cars correctly?
• Become easily flustered or angry?
• Have difficulty with glare of oncoming headlights, streetlights or other bright or shiny objects, especially at dawn, dusk and at night?
• Find it hard to turn your head, neck, shoulders or body while in traffic or parking?
• Had one or more near accidents?
• Feel exhausted after driving for an hour or more?
• Have difficulty maintaining concentration while driving?
• Have your passengers warned you about things on the road you may not have seen, or have seen too late?
• Feel uncomfortable in heavy traffic?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may be time for you to think about modifying your driving behaviour and improving your safety on the road.
How to keep driving safely
Here are some simple tips that can help older drivers stay on the road for longer:
• Use public transport or drive to the closest, most convenient form of public transport.
• Try to limit driving to off-peak periods.
• Plan shorter driving periods, and rest along the way.
• Try to drive only in daylight hours and avoid driving at sunset or sunrise – both are times of high glare and poor visibility.
• Try to avoid non signalled right hand turns where possible.
• Get a few refresher driving lessons.
• Don’t drive if you’ve been drinking or have taken medication.
• Have your eyes tested at least once every two years and make sure your optometrist knows that you drive.
• Talk to your pharmacist or doctor about any effect your medication may have on your driving.
• Choose the safest route, rather than the most direct one.