The most common component of safe driving is our ability to constantly be aware of what is happening around us in a 360° radius. For example, at intersections, we need to be conscious of, and responsive to approaching vehicles. We need to detect appropriate openings in two contra-flowing lanes of traffic as we seek to cross main roads.

But sadly as we age many of us will experience reduced peripheral vision – this being caused by both visual and flexibility deterioration. Our visual field will, on average, decrease by approximately one to three degrees per decade of life; i.e. by the time we reach our mid 70’s, we may have a 20 to 30 degree loss. And most of us will, to varying degrees, experience limited flexibility in our upper torso and necks, making the detection of side-on hazards difficult. Add to this those who adorn themselves with hairstyles and yuppie sunglasses, (which would serve a better purpose as blinkers on horses at Royal Ascot race track), and you have a recipe for disaster!

Why do we become stiff-necked?

blog pic 3And I am not referring to our stubbornness. Degenerative diseases, a sedentary life-style, poor posture, trauma, and arthritis, and even an incorrect pillow on which we rest our heads whilst sleeping, may all contribute to increased neck-pain as we age. But more importantly in respect of our driving skills, they restrict our movement and hamper our ability to see clearly through the radius required for safe motoring. Observing small babies looking around to find out where their next meal is coming from, we are often amazed that their heads do not unscrew; do not topple off completely! By contrast, as we age our necks begin to feel (and even look) a little like that of a turkey. Sometimes when joining a major road via an on-ramp it really feels as if the vertebrae have rusted in place (I have occasionally wondered if the can of Q20 lubricant in my car trunk, would perhaps assist me to twist my neck more easily, but I haven’t yet attempted this remedy).  It is self-evident that in order to see behind us; in order to look from side to side, we need to augment our peripheral vision by twisting flexible torsos and necks. Decreasing neck suppleness, combined with an escalating loss of peripheral vision, increases the risk of automobile accidents.

Adaptive driving strategies
So given that age related losses will occur to varying degrees, there are adaptive measures which will lessen the risk of peripheral vision related accidents; some examples being as follows:

Don’t get screwed at glide-on!
At the Pietermaritzburg ‘motor-town’ traffic circle, if one wishes to turn left towards Boschoff Street, one has two options… take the LH glide-off, or approach the circle directly and then turn left on entering the circle – at the circle itself. The former will result in your having to swivel your head
approximately 150° from the normal forward facing direction, in order to see if there are any oncoming vehicles. However if ones chooses to drive straight on to the roundabout and then turn left, one’s angle of turn reduces to less than 90°. This option also has the added advantage that you are more visible to oncoming traffic.

blog pic 4Oh! … and if circumventing a roundabout you make an error such as missing an exit, don’t be afraid to go round again, and again, and again (if necessary!) … rather than cutting across lanes to veer off at  specific exits… and never ever, (no matter how late you are for your dementia support group meeting), drive across the traffic circle! There is a traffic circle in the UK at Swindon, which comprises of a main circle surrounded by five smaller satellite circles. It is known locally as the ‘Swindon Magic Circle’ and to my shame, I must confess that I once became so frustrated and confused that I did actually drive across one of the smaller circles! (Google ‘Swindon Magic Circle’ and if you take the taxi component out of the equation, it may by comparison dawn upon you how simple South African roads really are).

Long hair styles impede safe driving
Hair is one area where women out-do (most) men for dangerous distractions. Hairstyles and cuts may reduce peripheral vision and interfere with driving; especially that in which the hair hangs down, covering half her face! It is supposed to look sexy, but generally just creates the impression that having woken up late; they have merely forgotten to arrange it. A UK study reputedly claimed some scary numbers. 190,000 women in the UK have admitted to experiencing a near-miss whilst driving, entirely due to hairstyle malfunctions. It goes on to say that additionally, 67% of survey respondents currently still wear a hairstyle that hangs over their eyes.