Staying on the road -Emerging Trends for older drivers – part 3
Helping you stay safe while staying on road
Recognising when to seek further action and driving behaviour warning signs
One of our main priorities in life is staying on the road and to remain safe; not only for ourselves but also for the protection of our family, friends and loved ones. Road safety is a huge movement in South Australia and all over the country to reduce accidents on our roads and eliminate fatalities. This road safety awareness is also appropriate for older drivers to ensure that they are being as safe as possible on our roads, and be certain that their driving capabilities are up to scratch.
This blog post is another follow-on in the series focusing on older drivers and understanding how you can improve your skills and remain driving, or recognise when it is an appropriate time to retire from driving.
In order to help our readers recognise whether they may require further assistance with their driving to stay on the road, or, alternatively, provide guidelines to confirm that they are ready to retire from driving completely, we will identify some tools to help guide you through this often confusing phase.
Upskilling for staying on the road
Defensive driving skills are great tools to have as a driver no matter what your age is. Even if you are an incredibly safe driver yourself, you don’t know the capabilities and experience of other drivers on the road and, therefore, having the knowledge and understanding of defensive driving skills could improve your driving abilities as well as make you and others safer on the road. Defensive driving courses can be a great way to further your knowledge in this area, and be taught and practice these skills in a safe and educational environment. When we talk defensive driving skills, we are not talking how to control a skid on a skid pan. We are talking about reintroducing you to skills that you may have lost over many years of driving.
We hear from our older drivers that many of them did not have any lessons to learn to drive. Many of them did not even have a test. If they or their dad knew the local copper well, that was often enough to get a licence. So many older drivers have never been taught the skills required to be a sound defensive driver.
Driving by instinct
We also know that drivers form bad habits over the years. As we get confident with driving our focus goes away from the things we were taught and we drive by instinct. Who has got in the car, their thoughts have wandered off and they arrive at their destination and can’t remember anything about the trip? During these times we are hoping that our alarm centres in our brain will fire when something out of the ordinary happens and we will know how to react. As drivers also gain experience, they narrow their focus. If you remember the days when you learnt to drive, your eyes were darting everywhere, the speedo, the mirror, the road in front, the signs, the speedo, the mirror, the road the signs,… Unfortunately, with older drivers who have reduced reaction times and a narrow focus on the immediate road environment in front often slow their driving to allow more time to react. They also feel frightened to take their eyes off of the road in front in case they miss something. This can cause road chaos for the following traffic or if the driver has to change lanes. In fast moving traffic.
Defensive driving lessons through a motor driving instructor can reintroduce drivers to the important road signs to look out for, where they are often placed so you know when to look for them. They can assist you to be more aware of your surroundings though increased mirror use, scanning, and blind spot checks. Such increases in observation skills reduce the need to rely solely on reactions and teach drivers to be proactive.
While we might think that we are safe drivers and report that “ I have been driving for many years and I have never had an accident”, studies have shown that we learn to drive by the rules and follow the signs, however the skills become automatic and, consequently, we become to drive by feel.
And what about the road rules. Are you up to date with the recent changes? Did you know that you should indicate left to leave all roundabouts? That you can go to any of the multiple lanes if turning from a single lane? Do you ever find that you are sitting back at an intersection and that you are letting everyone else go first because you are not sure if you have the right of way? Do you ever get a “toot” from another driver because of this? Do you stop in the middle of roundabouts as other drivers approach from the left because you don’t want to get in other drivers way? All of these issues can be related to a lack of road law knowledge and confidence in this knowledge.
If you think that you might be driving in ‘automatic mode’, or you are not sure and you are taking an “overcautious” approach to driving, we recommend that you invest in some driving lessons or an OT driver assessment to help you reorientate yourself with the road rules, as well as any changes that may have occurred since you obtained your licence. Not only do driving lessons kick your brain back into gear and takes you out of driving automatically, it can also provide you with tips and advice on how to tune into what is required to be a sound and, ultimately, safe driver.
Similarly, an Occupational Therapy driver assessment can dig deeper and thoroughly assess areas that you express as a concern to you, or areas that others have highlighted as concerning areas. Following a thorough assessment, an occupational therapist will provide you with professional advice on whether further action is required, whether you should consider retiring from driving, or you simply need to take it a bit easier on the road and be less distracted.
You might still be thinking “I’m not sure if I need these lessons to reorientate myself on the road”, and that is okay. We have created a list of driving behaviour warning signs that outline some of the behaviours that indicate you might need to think more when driving or have some lessons to learn a new thing or two.
Some of the driving behaviour warning signs include:
- Decrease in confidence while driving
- Difficulty turning to see when backing up
- Riding the brake
- Easily distracted while driving
- Other drivers often honking horns
- Incorrect signalling
- Parking inappropriately
- Hitting curbs
- Failure to notice important activity on the side of the road
- Failure to notice traffic signs
- Trouble navigating turns
- Driving at inappropriate speeds
- Not anticipating potential dangerous situations
- Bad judgement on making right-hand turns
- Near misses or car accidents
- Delayed response to unexpected situations
- Moving into the wrong lane
- Difficulty maintaining lane position
- Confusion at exits
- Ticketed violations or warnings
- Getting lost in familiar places
- Failure to stop at stop sign or red light
- Confusing the accelerator and brake pedals
- Stopping in traffic for no apparent reason
- Scrapes or dents on the car, mailbox or garage
- Increased agitation or irritation when driving
While this is a rather extensive list, repeated or a combination of warning signs may suggest a deterioration in cognitive ability for driving. Undoubtedly, we all sometimes do some of these things, whether we are distracted by kids in the back of the car, or there is another bad driver in front of you that is making you use the brake constantly. Therefore, if everyone who demonstrated one of these warning signs had their licence suspended the roads would be much safer, but that is just not practical or fair to the driver. It is when there are a combination and consistent difficulties experienced by the driver that indicates re-assessment or learning some new skills and tricks might be beneficial.
In conclusion, it is essential that all drivers are aware of their surroundings and other road users. Our professional staff at Williams Occupational Therapy recommend that if you have noticed you have been performing some of the driving behaviour warning signs more frequently of late, you consider booking in for a refresher driving lesson or an OT driver assessment. If you have not read part one of this series were the latest finding suggest upskilling, you will find out how this approach fits nicely with this.
If you have any questions about your driving or the driving of a loved one, please get in contact with Williams OT through the links on the website.