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Make Driving More Comfortable

Health challenges can make driving difficult

Driving is one of life's most practical and empowering privileges — just ask any 16-year-old who’s recently gotten their license. But many of us take the ability to go where we want, when we want, for granted until arthritis or other health problems start getting in the way.

If you're finding driving more difficult than it used to be, there may be solutions for making driving easier.

Learn some strategies to overcome driving-related challenges that many people face, as they get older.

Problem: You have trouble reading signs and seeing lane lines, especially at dawn and dusk

If you’re struggling to see road signs or markings, it’s time to get your eyes checked. You may need new prescription glasses or contact lenses. Or you may have an underlying vision problem that may be treatable. It’s important to get your eyes checked regularly to spot vision problems early.

It may help to invest in glasses with a nonreflective coating. If your car has tinted windows, consider having the tint removed or adjusted so that visual contrasts will be clearer. And keep your car windows, windshield, and lights clean in order to reduce glare.

Take extra care to look in all directions at intersections, and consider avoiding driving at night, when you may find it harder to see your surroundings.

Problem: You have trouble looking over your shoulder when changing lanes

If you have trouble checking your blind spot, adjust your side mirror until you can barely see the side of your car in the mirror's inside edge. Then lean forward to get closer to your side mirror. This will give you a fuller view of cars close by.

Attaching a convex mirror to each side mirror, or replacing your rearview mirror with a panoramic one, can also help increase your range of sight.

Problem: Your knees, hips, and ankles get sore after a drive

If you’re experiencing pain in your knees, hips, and ankles after driving, it may be time to change your seat position. Some cars let you raise and lower your seat, move it closer or farther away from the pedals, or even tip it forward or backward.

Experiment with your seat position until you find one that’s comfortable. Consider purchasing a seat cover that provides extra comfort or helps you get into an ideal position.

You can also install aftermarket features that may be available for your car. One example is adjustable pedals that are controlled by a push button on your dashboard.

Another is adaptive cruise control that adjusts to the speed of the car directly in front of you. This function allows you to stay in cruise mode, even when the speed of traffic changes.

Problem: Gripping your steering wheel makes your hands ache

If your hands ache from gripping your steering wheel, consider purchasing a steering knob that attaches directly to your steering wheel or column and moves like a spinner or joystick. A padded steering wheel cover can also cushion your hands and allow you to loosen your grip.

Some steering wheels are more comfortable to grip than others. Try out a few different steering wheel options before you purchase your next car.

Problem: Sitting for long periods of time causes your back to ache

If driving leaves your back sore, find a seat cushion that better supports you. When you’re taking long car trips, stop occasionally to get out and stretch. And when you’re shopping for a new car, look for features such as adjustable seats with a programmable memory feature.

Heated seats may also help you be comfortable. They can keep you warm in the winter and ease aching backs and hips.

Problem: You have difficulty getting in and out of your car

Fabric seats can create friction that makes entry and exit a hassle. Try covering your car seat with a beaded seat cover or even a plastic garbage bag. Consider investing in aftermarket leather seats for your current car — or trade up from fabric to leather seats the next time you buy a car.

Problem: Your concentration and reflexes aren't as good as they used to be

It’s normal for your concentration and reflexes to decline as you age. To adjust, allow extra time to get where you're going. Limit your trips to daylight hours, if possible. And take familiar roads, when you can.

It’s also important to allow at least two car lengths of space between your car and the one in front of you, to give you time to react.

It’s crucial to avoid distractions. For example, when you drive, try to avoid:

  • tuning your radio
  • talking on your cell phone
  • driving with boisterous kids in the backseat

If you’re feeling drowsy, disoriented, or dizzy, it’s not a safe time to drive.

Talk to your doctor

If you’re finding it harder to drive as you get older, talk to your doctor. Tell them about any symptoms that are making driving less comfortable or convenient for you.

Those symptoms may be signs of an underlying health condition, which may be treatable. Your doctor may prescribe medications, surgery, or other treatments. They may also refer you to a physiotherapist, occupational therapist, or other specialist.

Even if you can’t get rid of your symptoms, you may be able to modify your car or driving habits to stay safe and comfortable on the road. 

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