Winter Driving Safety Tips For Seniors

Today’s “seniors” are boomers and they don’t plan to slow down their lifestyles for a little thing like getting older — or inclement winter weather.

More 65-plus drivers are on the roads as baby boomers continue to work or pursue active retirement lifestyles. Yet no matter how active and healthy you stay, your driving skills will inevitably change as you age. Your changing driving abilities, however, need not stand in the way of safe, enjoyable winter driving.

“In our fast-paced, modern world, driving is not only a privilege, it’s a necessity for millions of Americans, especially seniors who rely on their vehicles to help keep them independent,” commented Howard Hayes of NAVTEQ. “Many seniors don’t have the luxury of staying home when the weather turns bad. But with a few safety measures and a little extra care, seniors can stay safe on the roads throughout the winter.”

Senior drivers should follow universal vehicle safety practices, and take some extra precautions designed to compensate for their changing driving abilities.

Take Care of Your Car
Vehicle maintenance is even more important in the winter, when frigid temperatures could turn a break down into a life-threatening situation. Look after maintenance items that are particularly susceptible to malfunction in cold weather, including:

* Cooling systems — Be sure you have the right antifreeze mixture to keep the car’s cooling system running smoothly.

* Belts and hoses — Cold temperatures can make these more prone to cracking and breaking.

* Tires — Cold makes the air in tires contract and could cause a dangerous under-inflation.

* Battery — Wintery temperatures can make a battery lose its charge. Be sure yours is in good condition and fully charged before the weather turns cold.

* Wipers and washer fluid — You’ll need wipers to remove snow and washer fluid to remove sand, salt and dirt spray from your windshield. Be sure wipers work well and washer fluid flows freely.

* Oil — For optimum performance, oil should be clean and flow easily through the engine. Consult a mechanic or your vehicle’s manual to find out if your engine might benefit from thinner viscosity oil in cold weather.

Take Care of Yourself
Winter driving can be especially rigorous, so it’s important to ensure you’re at your best physically before climbing behind the wheel. Do’s and don’ts for senior drivers include:

* Do have your vision checked — ideally twice a year, and definitely before winter driving season gets under way.

* Don’t drive if you’re tired, feeling ill or have just begun a new prescription medication.

* Do stock your vehicle with emergency supplies, including warm blankets, bottled water (kept inside the car and not in the trunk where it may freeze), nutritious nonperishable snacks like granola bars or protein-rich nuts and road flares.

* Don’t leave home without your cell phone. Or, if you don’t have a cell, make sure you check in with a loved one before you leave the house. Tell them where you’re going, your estimated arrival and return time, and that you’ll check in with them again when you return home.

Plan and Prepare
Winter driving experts agree — don’t drive in bad weather if you can avoid it. But if driving in inclement weather is absolutely necessary, take these steps to help make the challenge as safe as possible:

* Avoid rush hours, but stay on well-traveled roads. Don’t try taking back roads or “short cuts” thinking you’ll avoid traffic. Fewer cars on back roads may mean those routes are the last to be plowed or maintained and are not likely to be heavily patrolled by emergency services.

* Pre-plan your route using resources like to get the most up-to-date information on traffic and road conditions. Internet savvy seniors can log on to before leaving home. Or, call (866) MY-TRAFC (866-698-7232), a toll-free traffic hotline. At, you can download the free Traffic Gift Pack, which includes three easy-to-use personal mobile traffic services: the hotline, mobile Web site and text alerts.

* Travel with a companion whenever possible. There is safety in numbers, and a vigilant travel companion can help you navigate slick roads, wintery weather and traffic challenges better than you might if you were alone.