In America, driving an automobile is a symbol of freedom and independence. Research has shown that, if not handled properly, a loss of driving can lead to isolation and depression. It is important to remember that driving is a very complex task. As we continue our journey through the natural aging process, it becomes even more important that we remain cognizant of the fact that some of the skills required for safe driving may begin to diminish.
More specifically, we are talking about our cognitive processing and our physical abilities. In its simplest form, these are the two primary components required for safe driving. Did you know that the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates that we are outliving our ability to drive safely by an average of 7-10 years? The purpose of this article is to provide a cursory review of each of these two fundamental components.
The complexity of driving an automobile cannot be understated. Cognitive or executive functioning can best be described as the brain’s ability to manage activities. Those activities include such things as:
· problem solving
· organizing and directing the body to carry out activities
· making appropriate decisions
· considering consequences
· working memory
· prioritizing details and tasks
· staying focused
Obviously, each of these cognitive abilities are critical to driving safety. If and when your executive functioning skills begin to diminish, your likelihood of being involved in a car crash is sure to increase accordingly.
No less or no more important to maintaining your cognitive functions is the importance of maintaining your physical abilities. Are you getting your annual vision exams as recommended? If your audiologist has prescribed hearing aids, are you wearing them or do you keep them on the nightstand? Are you taking your medications exactly as directed? Are you adhering to the warnings on the medication labels? Have you educated yourself on which of your medications may have an adverse effect on your ability to drive safely?
Do you exercise? Exercise can help improve an older driver’s overall coordination, strength, flexibility, balance and range of motion. Exercise can also help an older driver turn their neck and body to look beside them before changing lanes, or behind them before backing.
Safe driving, regardless of age, requires a keen mind and sharp motor skills. With the diminishment of cognitive and/or physical abilities related to the natural aging process, we may unknowingly begin to minimize the complexity of driving and simultaneously overestimate our abilities.
Just as there are infinite number of ways to keep yourself in good physical shape, there are just as many unique (and free!) techniques available to help you exercise your mind. Keeping both your mind and your body active as you age is sure to play a vital role in extending your safe driving years.
Author: Matt Gurwell, founder of Keeping Us Safe, a national organization that helps older drivers that may be experiencing a diminishment in driving skills make a smooth transition from the driver’s seat to the passenger seat. To learn more about Keeping Us Safe and their array of services, please visit their website at www.keepingussafe.org