The Wiser Driver

A very valuable four week course, which could save your (and others) lives! Conducted for the U3A Surf Coast, by Lee Knight, on behalf of the Hawthorn Community House, and supported by VicRoads and the RACV.

Over the past four weeks, several members of the U3A Surf Coast, have been given a fascinating insight into the problems experienced by older drivers, as a result of a steady, but unavoidable deterioration in their mental and physical faculties, and the procedures we must follow if we are to maintain our driving independence, and avoid potential accidents.

The first question is: ”Am I still fit to drive?”  Although older drivers can generally be considered to have extensive experience and they try to avoid dangerous situations which frequently occur on today`s busy roads, it does not alter the fact that as all humans age, their mental and physical characteristics slowly deteriorate.  Reaction times gradually increase, drowsiness (fatigue) occurs earlier, confusion and indecision occur more frequently, and physical movements take longer.

No two people are the same, and some deteriorate faster than others, but it is a fact that everyone experiences a marked loss of function, as they age.  Changes may occur so slowly, that they may not be noticeable, but they do occur.  Some people accept this as fact, others refuse to accept that they have any problems at all, whilst the majority lie somewhere in between – but how do we know?

Poor eyesight is an obvious problem, and this can be easily assessed by an optometrist.  Casual comments from passengers can be enlightening, or an assessment by a qualified occupational therapist, and a test by a specialist VicRoads assessor, will answer the question, am I fit to drive?

Many actions can be taken to reduce the potential for accidents:

  • Buy a safe car. The newer the better, preferably with a 5 star ANCAP safety rating. The larger the better, with a very visible (white or bright) external colour, good seating position and good visibility from the driver’s seat.   
  • Know the current road laws! A current VicRoads “Road to Solo Driving” is a good start.              
  • Make yourself visible to other drivers. Use your headlights during daytime driving. If other drivers see you, they are less likely to run into you!
  • Always concentrate on your driving, avoid all distractions.      
  • Take extra care, at intersections, at stop and give way signs, when turning right, on roads with high speed limits, when you stop behind another car ensure you can see their rear tyres touching the road, when driving leave a larger gap to the vehicle in front, when on the move, don`t cut corners to save time.  
  • Beware of visibility blind spots. Consider purchasing blind spot mirrors for your exterior mirrors.
  • Use your hazard flashers when applicable.
  • Avoid congested traffic where possible.
  • Drive only when necessary.
  • Move smoothly with the traffic.
  • Avoid higher speeds – wipe off 5 {kph}.      
  • Don`t drive when tired or drowsy. Always stop and rest when necessary.
  • Take extra care at night, or when it is raining.
  • Try to stay calm. Do not allow yourself to be provoked by other driver`s erratic   behaviour.

However, by far the most important action is to accept that as an older driver, especially one over 70, you are not as responsive as you used to be, and that you must modify your driving style to compensate.

John Peck

August 2019

U3A Surf Coast Drivers Becoming WISER

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