Staying healthy in your car: Coping with illness and age

Is driving a right or a privilege? It depends on whom you ask. State agencies that issue licenses call it a privilege, but the average American male regards it as a right, even acting as if his car were an extension of his body. It's understandable, since driving is intimately related to a man's masculinity, independence, and self-esteem. That's okay as long as a man takes good care of his car and uses it wisely. But even if a man takes good care of his body, illness may strike and he will grow old. How do illnesses and age affect motor vehicle safety, and how can a man keep driving in good health?

Health factors

It's obvious that people with chronic medical conditions have an increased risk for becoming ill abruptly. And chronic illness itself boosts the chances of being in a crash. An Alabama study confirmed the link between chronic illness and crashes; heart disease, previous strokes, arthritis, and the use of various medications indicate increased risk, as does age itself. But that doesn't mean everyone with a pillbox should take the bus. Instead, there are ways to compensate for many problems.

Visual impairment. Every state requires an eye test for licensure; most require a visual acuity of 20/40 or better in at least one eye and a lateral visual field width of 140–160 degrees. It's a reasonable standard, but it may not go far enough. The ability to see contrasts, to compensate for darkness and bright lights, to see colors, and to perceive depths also contributes to safety. And most states won't check your vision more than once every 5 years. You can do better. If you're over 50, get your eyes checked annually, and ask yourself honestly if you have any visual problems on the road. A checkup will protect you from visual loss due to glaucoma, and it may reveal cataracts or other problems that can be corrected in time to prevent a crash. For example, an Alabama study of cataract patients ages 55–84 found that corrective surgery cut the risk of car crashes in half.

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