The ability to see is essential to safe driving. For example, we need to be able to read the gauges and dials in the car, see street signs, recover our focus at night, recognize and respond to brake lights, and correctly judge the speed and location of other vehicles around us. Nearly every key task in driving involves detecting, processing, and responding to visual cues. Eye doctors can evaluate visual acuity, which is needed to read road signs and to see objects, such as pedestrians or other cars, in the driving path. The useful fi eld of view, or visual fi eld, has to do with our peripheral vision, or the ability to see off to the sides without moving our head or eyes. A reduced visual fi eld means that it is harder to see cars and people off to the side. The ability to recover from glare changes with age, and older eyes need more time to recover than younger eyes. Sensitivity to light is needed to see the taillights of other cars at night. Depth perception is the ability to judge the distance between objects, such as oncoming cars, and us.
Not only do we need to see all the stimuli that surround us, but we also need to make sense of it all by thinking quickly and clearly. Memory, attention, visual attention, and executive function are all high-level skills needed to drive safely. Divided attention is used when you are doing two things at once, such as talking to a passenger and navigating a turn. Selective attention is the ability to tune out or ignore what is not important in order to focus on what is important. The speed of thinking and decision making is critical to driving safety and tends to decrease with aging. Slowed or hesitant responses to situations such as merging or changing lanes are often causes of accidents for older drivers. Memory is vital to safe driving. You've got to be able to remember where you are going, the rules of the road, and how to make decisions.
In order to drive safely, you need to be able to move without much restriction. Moving in this way requires fl exibility and muscle strength. Flexibility is the ability to stretch or move a joint or muscle. Being fl exible enough to turn to look behind you when backing up or being fl exible enough to get in and out of your car are key functions. Muscle strength is needed to open the door, change gears, turn the steering wheel, and press the brake and gas pedals.
A brief mention of general driving profi ciency is warranted. You have to know and follow the rules of the road in order to be a safe driver. A lifetime of bad driving habits will catch up with an older driver suddenly faced with problems stemming from health-related changes. A history of aggressive or careless driving does not bode well for future safety. A refresher course should defi nitely be taken to learn new, safer driving habits.
Assessments of Driver Safety Below is a description of the range of assessment options available to help you or your loved one to assess driving fi tness.