Driving Skills...do they diminish with age?



I've written before that we baby boomers are "the generation that does not want to grow old", nor should we and She and I here at RetirementLIFE have been profiling some of the many ways we can keep ourselves young at heart, relevant and interesting. But while we still think and act as if still in our 20s or 30s, none of us will deny that the dreaded ageing process is, in differing ways for each of us, making its unwanted presence felt. We still get out there and play tennis but not with the vigour we did 40 years ago, we still play golf but the yardage is not so long anymore and we still bravely ride our push bikes - almost a cult thing for us retirees - but while all of these physical pursuits are both admirable and applauded, we rarely mention the sore back, tennis elbow or the aching hip and knee joints that we invariably suffer after an active day out! OUCH! But with a little pampering we are out there again the next day, championing our "not growing old" label and aside from the occasional secretive visits to the acupuncturist or osteopath, we successfully hide our aging pains well!

But what about our driving skills? A vexing and contentious social issue, our case not aided whenever an older person is the cause of an out-of-control vehicle causing havoc in a busy pedestrian area or careering into someone's lounge-room!!


Unlike the sporting activities where we still play hard but have to admit our body no longer allows us to do so at the levels we did when we were young, our driving prowess, a skill honed over a long 45 years or more, will not allow us the same degree of self-examination and honesty. After all, the right to drive affords us many benefits - the absolute freedom to come and go anywhere at anytime in relative comfort - but also it comes with huge responsibilities (do not drink and drive, abide by the road rules including speed limits etc.). And now we are retired, our days of school runs at 9am and 3pm (for the Mums primarily); the long dreary trips in peak hour to and from the city on weekdays; or the copious chauffeuring of kids to sporting fixtures and social events on weekends (indeed, ours included hauling ponies in a horse-float to pony club and various equestrian events!) are over, but driving brings new leisure opportunities and adventures for us to seek out. Losing our right to drive in those hectic family years would have been unthinkable and whilst the need is less imperative now, to lose our driving rights now would be equally reprehensible!! So it is necessary in retirement that we maintain and demonstrate a level of competency prerequisite for good driving and that we keep abreast of the ever-changing road regulations.

But why is it that we do not as readily admit our diminished capacity when it comes to driving - is it because we niaively don't recognise it or is it simply a pride thing? I believe it's a bit of both! I recently saw a older lady hobble from the doctor's surgery to her car, barely able to keep her balance despite being aided by two - not one but two - walking sticks and on reaching her car literally fell against it while she fumbled to get the door unlocked before struggling into the driver's seat. Once in and settled she drove the car at speed with such a look of determination and seeming command that completely contrasted to her earlier state I just described - I wondered whether she really had control of that vehicle or not? In that moment I was convinced she would surely come to grief before too long! Clearly her need was great and hopefully she arrived safely!

The reality is that like our sporting pursuits, driving is something we can and should continue to enjoy, so long as we readily concede our physical limitations and drive accordingly. If you readily admit your reflexes are no longer as swift or precise as they used to be, you will drive appropriately, giving yourself more space and hence more time to react to sudden situations; if you admit you no longer have the concentration levels or the fortitude you had 30 years ago, you will not foolishly undertake long stints behind the wheel without a break, and especially not at night when you are more likely to fall asleep.

My Dad drove until the day before he died at 90 and he did no harm, and his father did similar years before him - I would dearly like to think this same fate lies ahead for me - who knows! But how many frail persons are there driving on our roads each day, near blind and not able to control a vehicle in traffic or cruising on the motorways at speed? Scarry huh! But is it any worse than the element that continues to plague or roads when disqualified, or drive under the influence of drugs or alchohol or persist in being totally distracted by the dreaded mobile phone pandemic!! Our son is a highway patrol officer and he shares some absolute horror stories!


I recently was compromised by a discourteous driver who applied his brakes for no apparent reason as I pulled out behind him to overtake a slower vehicle. Of course I reacted by touching my brakes also, but travelling at 100kph in wet conditions, the old SL aquaplaned into a couple of 360 degree spins across two lanes of the motorway before coming to rest against a metal sign post. OUCH AGAIN! It all happened in a couple of seconds and fortunately for me there were no B-doubles that frequent this major interstate highway about at the time - while the car was a little bent, I was more angry thank shaken but otherwise unscathed. Had I been not so visually and physically alert and responsive, I could have easily crashed or rolled the car and seriously injured myself - and I can now readily concede there will come a time when I and my fellow road users will be better served by my no longer driving. That concession I trust is still a long time away for me, but it really is something none of us can mess with!

So it is essential tips and reminders for all of us older drivers to abide by:

  • maintain good health - our eyesight, our reflexes - regular medical checks (note that in NSW drivers over 75 years now require to provide an annual medical check-up and certificate with practical driving assessments required every two years from age 85

  • RTA - NSW Licensing Older Drivers

  • take regular breaks when driving long distances - "stop, revive,survive" is our longstanding driver survival campaign in NSW - we recommend breaks every 2 hours

  • do not drink and drive

  • do not continue to drive when tired - this can be devastating - stop, revive, survive

  • stay within recommended or statutory speed limits

  • share the driving with your partner - don't be too proud to admit you are not up for driving on any


given day

  • drive within your physical capacity - know your limitations and admit you no longer have a young person's stamina

  • know when to quit - give up your licence when you feel you can no longer capably drive (in NSW the Roads authority will practically assess you biannually once you are 85)

HAPPY - AND SAFE - MOTORING!!


...and remember...have a fabulous retirementLIFE....


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