Holiday safety tips for older drivers

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 22, 2012

(BPT) – Trips to visit family and friends, nighttime drives to midnight Mass or to look at Christmas lights, emergency runs to the grocery store – driving is as much a part of the holiday season as gift wrap and Christmas carols. No matter where you live in the country, driving during the holidays presents some unique challenges. It pays to make sure both you and your vehicle are prepared to stay safe on the road throughout the winter.

The experts at AARP Driver Safety offer some advice:

Prepare for bad weather

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If you live in an area of the country that gets winter weather, take steps to ensure your vehicle is ready for snow. Have your mechanic check the brakes, hoses and belts, ignition, battery and all fluid levels, including the antifreeze and windshield wiper fluid levels. If you know you’ll be driving through heavy snow and ice, consider putting winter tires on your car.

Stock your car with emergency equipment that will help if you become stranded, including a flashlight, first aid kit, shovel, jumper cables, basic tool kit, a bag of salt, extra windshield wiper fluid, and an ice scraper and brush. Before you leave home, always be sure you have a full tank of gas, a fully charged cell phone and a functional spare tire, jack and lug wrench.

Be aware of holiday volume

Gas prices notwithstanding, the roads are always busier during the holidays. Shopping trips, local visits to loved ones and long-distance trips keep the nation’s highways humming with heavier-than-usual volume. More cars on the road means you face more time sitting in traffic and more risk of a fender-bender or even a serious accident.

To minimize the crunch of holiday traffic, try to travel during off times of the day. Avoid traditional rush hours when you’re making local trips, and if you’ll be taking a long drive avoid historically high volume days. Use GPS navigation to help avoid the busiest roads by plotting less-traveled alternate routes.

Minimize distractions

Holiday driving is full of distractions, from bright holiday lights that can be visually challenging at night, to driving with a carload of happy holiday revelers. Take steps to minimize distractions. Never drive and use your cell phone at the same time. If you must use the phone, pull over or hand it to a passenger. When driving with passengers, establish ground rules for behavior that won’t turn into a distraction for you.

Be at your best

Finally, you as the driver are the most important factor in ensuring your holiday drive time is as safe as possible. Take care of yourself by getting plenty of rest during this busy time of year and by driving at times of day when you’re at your best.

Consider brushing up on your driving skills. AARP Driver Safety’s course is designed to help drivers 50 and older refresh their skills and adapt to age-related changes to vision, hearing and reaction time. To find an in-person course near you, search at, or sign up to take an online course. Courses are available in both English and Spanish.

Signing up for a driving course may also make you eligible for a multi-year auto insurance discount, and who couldn’t use some extra money during the holidays?