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Need help behind the wheel - and beyond?

The Florida Department of Transportation has released a free 164-page Guide to Safe Mobility for Life.
The Courtney Campbell Causeway. [CLIFFORD, DOUGLAS R. | St. Petersburg Times]

As we all know, the future is just around the corner and just down the road.

But as we age, getting there may require some planning. We might no longer have the freedom to drive in the years ahead, and we want to make the most of the time we do have left behind the wheel. So it pays to be proactive.

To that end, the Florida Department of Transportation has released the free 164-page Guide to Safe Mobility for Life.

“This all-in-one resource contains both county and statewide information to help aging road users ...,” according to an FDOT news release. It is designed to “improve the safety, access and mobility of Florida’s aging population.”

In addition to offering resources in all 67 Florida counties, there are tips and guidelines for older drivers who want to plan for the time when they will no longer have a driver license. The guide also includes pointers on how older drivers can spot important changes in their driving skills.

The Sunshine State leads the country with 20 percent of the population older than 65. By 2030, this demographic will represent more than 24 percent of Florida’s population and roughly one in four licensed drivers, according to the guide.

A driver gets 90 percent of the information he needs to be safe on the road from his eyes, the guide notes. An annual eye exam is a good practice, according to Lori Grismore, an occupational therapist with the University of South Florida Byrd Alzheimer’s Center in Tampa.

Because a person’s vision naturally diminishes with age, the guide offers a couple of tips on how senior drivers who wear glasses or contact lenses can best use their vision as they age:

• Keep an extra pair of glasses in your car in case your regular glasses get broken or lost. This will also help if you do not always wear glasses and forget to take them with you when you drive.

• Avoid dark glasses when driving at night, even if you think they will help with headlight glare. You need as much light as possible to help you see clearly after dark.

Sense of touch is also an important component for safe driving, Grismore noted. “You have to drive with your hands and feet. If you have tingling sensations in your hands or feet, you need to be tested.”

Cognitive skills are also key, Grismore said. It’s important for drivers and their families or caretakers to notice changes in their brain, such as memory recall or orientation.

“You might forget where you parked, how to get home, what street names are in a familiar area,” she said.

Safe driving also requires good reaction times, according to Grismore. Multitasking skills, which can decline with age, are important too, Grismore said. “Can they see more than one thing out in front of them? See the whole scene out in front of them?”

One warning sign of trouble is if a driver forgets they’ve had a fender-bender. There might be “unexplained damage on the car. They don’t remember how it happened or deny they had an accident,” Grismore said, adding that “Sometimes, they don’t remember they had an accident last week and the car’s in the shop.”

As the guide explains, “The brain is no different than any other part of the body. It needs to be used to stay in peak condition. Many people take up crossword puzzles or other games to exercise their minds, or they read more. Reading is a great brain exercise.”

Some of the above scenarios may seem frightening to older drivers, but the FDOT guide provides worksheets to help with planning for the day when driving isn’t an option.

The worksheets show how a senior can identify routine destinations like the grocery store, doctor’s office, library, dog park, etc., and then list — with the guide’s help — forms of transportation to each, from waking or biking to bus, taxi, ride shares or other modes of transportation. The worksheets also provide spaces to list contact phone numbers for each mode, if appropriate, and cost.

“This resource will be an invaluable tool to help our older adults plan their transportation future,” according to the FDOT news release.

Contact Fred W. Wright Jr. at travelword@aol.com.

Learn more

To read Florida’s Guide to Safe Mobility for Life or to order a copy, go to safemobilityfl.com/guide.htm.

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