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Blog Feature

By: Chelsea Sayegh on January 12th, 2017

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5 Driving Tips for Seniors to Stay Safe on The Roads This Winter

Aging & Caregiving

Limited daylight. Icy roads. Frigid temperatures. These are just a few of the challenges associated with winter driving. For many seniors, unfortunately, these issues can be heightened by age-related factors. With a little planning, preparation and the following five driving safety tips for seniors, caregivers can do their part to help keep aging loved ones safe on the road. 

1. Make Sure the Car is Winter Road-Ready

Your aging loved one doesn’t need a brand new vehicle to drive safely in the snow, but a well-maintained car is essential to avoiding unnecessary problems on wintry roads. While regular service is important any season of the year, it becomes even more critical when winter weather is headed your way. Ask your aging loved one’s mechanic to make sure that:

  • the car battery and charging system are in optimal working condition
  • tires are adequately inflated
  • the cooling system is ready to go
  • windshield wipers are in good shape with a full windshield washer reservoir
  • the front and rear-window defrosters are functional

If your aging loved one’s vehicle is rear-wheel drive, meanwhile, stash a bag of sand in the trunk for improved traction. 

2. Clean the Car

A snow free car isn’t just an aesthetic nicety during winter weather; it’s a necessity. Why? Because failure to thoroughly clean a vehicle following a storm can lead to to falling snow hazards -- both for your aging loved one as well as for the other cars sharing the road.

While storing a car in the garage before a storm is ideal, it's not always possible. Neither is waiting for the snow to melt before driving. If you or another member of the caregiving team aren't available to help with snow removal and if your aging loved one is in good physical condition, here are a few tips that can make the task easier.

  • A long-handled snow scraper means less reaching and maneuvering around the car on slippery terrain.
  • As it’s easier to remove snow from a warm car, advise aging loved ones to start the car and turn on the front and rear defrosters a few minutes before beginning the snow removal process. (Just be sure to also remind them to check that doors aren’t locked with the keys in the ignition, and that the tailpipe is free of snow, ice and mud as these obstructions can cause deadly carbon monoxide to leak into the passenger compartment when the engine is running.)
  •  Lastly, remind seniors of the importance of dressing for the job of shoveling out their cars: layers of warm breathable clothing, a winter hat, gloves, and boots will help prevent frostbite while keeping seniors comfortable.

As snow removal can be particularly exhausting for aging bodies, lining up help in advance is also a good idea. If budget allows, hire a professional snow removal service. Or,  ask neighbors about teenagers in the area who might be available to help clear away snow from your aging loved one’s walkways, driveway and car. 

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3. Encourage Snow-Smart Driving

More than 1,300 people are killed and 116,000 injured in this country every year on wintry roads. Going over proper driving techniques for snow and ice with aging loved ones can lead to safer driving...and enhanced peace of mind.

A few winter weather driving tips for seniors? For starters, always accelerate and decelerate slowly in inclement weather in order to avoid skids and maintain traction. Also, remember that everything takes longer on slick roads so instruct seniors to take their time when slowing down, stopping, and turning. (Stopping, in general, can be challenging on snow and ice so should be avoided whenever possible.)

While applying extra gas on dry pavement can help your car power up hills, it results in spinning wheels on snow-covered roads. Instead, drivers should build inertia on flat roadways and use that inertia to crest the hill before coasting slowly down without applying the brakes, if possible.

Adequately thick tire treads are a preventative measure, but if a vehicle does hydroplane on icy roads, resist the temptation to brake hard or accelerate and instead steer into the skid toward an open space.

Other winter weather driving tips for seniors? Avoid engaging cruise control and always wear your seatbelt.

And remember: even if your aging loved one drives well on winter roads, not everyone else does. Unless seniors absolutely have somewhere to go, they should hunker down during inclement weather. Make it easier for them to stay put by arranging for a neighbor or friend to check in to make sure your aging loved one has everything necessary to weather the storm without leaving home. Caregivers can also help by making sure the pantry is stocked and prescriptions are filled before winter weather arrives.

Talking to seniors about safe driving can be tricky -- particularly if you’re having the discussion with the person who taught you to drive! Here are more tips for helping improve senior driving, as well as helpful information for initiating the conversation if/when it comes time to hang up the car keys.

4. Equip the Car (and Your Aging Loved One!) for Emergencies

A roadside emergency may never occur, but if one does, you’ll be glad you prepared for the worst. Make sure your aging loved one’s car is stocked with a charged cell phone, plenty of warm clothing and blankets, food, water, and any must-have medications. (Click here for specifics on how to make your own emergency car kit.)

Advise seniors to stay with snow-bound vehicles and not to venture out on foot into a storm. The car offers shelter, while also helping rescuers locate you.  The engine will become a valuable source of heat if a breakdown occurs, so avoiding an empty tank is a smart strategy. (AAA recommends keeping the tank at least half full at all times in winter.)

5. Check the Weather

We’ve all heard the expression, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This applies no better to anything than checking the weather before wintertime driving. Winter weather events can dramatically impact the roads and the risk of accidents, and what appears to be fine in the moment may be treacherous just minutes later if the weather takes an unexpected turn for the worse.

While checking the weather may sound simple, it can be easy to forget for seniors -- particularly for those suffering from memory problems, as well as for those for whom doing so is not a habit. One simple way to avoid putting seniors on the road to potential catastrophe? Help them remember to check the weather before hitting the road in the winter.

The good news is that forecasting technology is better than ever before -- meaning freak snowstorms and other dangerous weather events are few and far between. The latest technology is also a useful, too. If your aging loved one has a smart device, a number of apps and widgets exist which keep the weather forecast front and center. For others, a sticky note on the fridge may be a simple, sufficient reminder to check the weather before setting out.

While you can't control the weather, you can do your best to make sure your aging loved one is winter road ready with these five cold weather driving tips for seniors. And remember: Senior capabilities can and do change from last year. This is also a good time to check in on all issues related to your aging loved one’s ongoing care and safety if he/she is still living alone. And don’t forget to download our free guide for caregivers, The Journey of Aging, for more ways to help seniors live full, happy lives.

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About Chelsea Sayegh

I started working as a Marketing Coordinator for United Methodist Homes in October of 2016. I work on public relations, website management and community planning for their award winning independent and assisted living communities. As a graduate of Ursinus College with a degree in Media and Communications and a passion for serving nonprofits, United Methodist Homes has become my home away from home. I spend my days working in a community filled with smiling faces, helpful hands and wonderful residents. I have a passion for assisting seniors and take great pride in being able to promote a company with such a positive mission and values. As an individual committed to learning and growing, I have jumped right into this exciting career!

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