Travel is complicated, even without a global pandemic. For seniors and other high-risk individuals, it can be even more intimidating when you’re dependent on public transportation that presents increased exposure to germs or disease. Planes, buses, taxis and even ride-sharing companies can pose a threat, with COVID-19 potentially floating in the air or living for hours — or even days — on surfaces.
Still, being out and about is sometimes necessary, regardless of your age. There are groceries to be purchased, essential supplies to stock up on and errands or activities to run, such as doctor’s appointments, family visits or religious services. With CDC guidelines urging Americans only to venture out when absolutely mandatory, there has been a marked decline in public transportation use since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in particular, seniors are looking for safer ways to travel.
Many seniors have opted to get back behind the wheel, with their personal vehicle serving as a safer means for travel overall. If you are preparing to hit the road during a pandemic, these are some things to consider for the sake of everyone’s safety.
The impact on seniors
For seniors, it may have been a while since you were behind the wheel. Family and friends may have enabled or encouraged you to join a community carpool, or perhaps local shuttles gave you a ride to your favorite spots. The arrival and impact of COVID-19 has forced many seniors to consider these alternative forms of transportation — especially if they are unable or unwilling to drive themselves.
Some organizations, like your local medical center or place of worship, may offer you a free ride. When scheduling appointments or making plans, inquire with the venue to see if there are any complimentary or paid shuttles that you can utilize for your visit.
- Rideshare for seniors
Ridesharing is growing in popularity with seniors because it provides an additional outlet for living a more independent life. Instead of dealing with public transit, seniors can use their mobile phone to schedule a private ride through popular companies like Uber and Lyft.
- How to book uber without a smartphone
If you don’t have a cell phone or prefer to use a different device, you can still use Uber. You can use your laptop or desktop computer to book a ride by way of the Uber website.
If you have family who lives locally and is in good health, consider asking them for a ride. They may need to run many of the same errands you do, creating the perfect opportunity to safely enjoy one another’s company while you check off your to-do list.
To help residents get where they need to go, many cities and towns have waived or reduced fees for many forms of public transit. With many people working from home these days, public transportation usage is down, significantly helping to reduce your chances of exposure. Although overall it may not be the least-risky option for getting around, for senior drivers, it’s a viable alternative to driving on their own.
Health safety measures
Public transit is a great resource for all ages of drivers or those needing a means of transportation. With fewer resources to fight the virus, many locales are stepping up, with government support and expanded public services, to help higher-risk citizens get through these trying times.
What is being done?
Some local transit organizations are rallying around their community members, offering extended services to help those who have difficulty traveling. This includes critical services like home delivery for all sorts of necessities, such as groceries, meals and prescriptions.
Transit lines and other modes of public transportation have also been undergoing strenuous cleaning and sanitation procedures, with the New York subway even utilizing HVAC systems in each car.
You can also expect enhanced cleaning protocols for ride-sharing services. For example, Uber requires all of its drivers and passengers to wear masks and has instituted a “Leave at door” option for its deliveries as part of its Door-to-Door Safety Standard. Additionally, the company has pledged 10 million free rides for those in need, including seniors and frontline healthcare workers.
What can I do?
The CDC provides extra guidance for those using public forms of transportation, who want to do what they can for the safety of themselves and others.
- Always use a mask and wear gloves if you expect to touch any surfaces during your outing.
- Avoid unmasked drivers and passengers.
- Use social distancing when in public, always allowing for a distance of six feet between you and others. Allow for as much of a distance as possible between you and the driver, as well as other passengers.
- Refrain from touching surfaces that could spread bacteria or germs, such as door frames, windows, subway poles and pay terminals.
- If you must touch surfaces, use an EPA-approved hand sanitizer or disinfectant afterward, to kill germs that may have transferred to your person.
- Avoid contact through touchless payments, instead using your own phone to schedule rides or adjust orders.
- Improve ventilation wherever possible, either by opening windows or requesting that the driver put the air on a non-recirculation mode.
- If you are not feeling well, stay home. Even if you do not have COVID-19, an immune system weakened by illness of any kind can make you more susceptible to contracting other viruses or infections.
Back on the road
During times like COVID or even flu season, your own car can be the safest place to be when you need to travel. That can be quite a transition for some seniors, who may have grown accustomed to a passenger role instead. However, here are some things you can do to make the transition a little easier.
Consider medical needs
Don’t forget to plan for any special medical needs when you are leaving your home. Two of the more critical medical considerations to be mindful of are prescriptions and medical alert systems.
There are some medications that can impair your judgment and slow your responses, making it incredibly dangerous for you to drive. Some medicines can make you feel sleepy or sick. Others may have a delayed reaction time, with symptoms setting in well after you have taken the medication. Regardless of the specific side effects, it’s important to avoid driving under the influence of certain medications, so be sure to talk to your doctor about safe protocols before you begin driving while medicated.
A medical alert system is an excellent way for seniors to ensure their safety on the road. GPS tracking ensures that your loved ones and emergency responders can find you in a pinch, with the added benefit of 24/7 support when and where you need it. Built-in features like fall detection, alarm beacons and custom emergency plans can all help you stay safe on the road. There are several models available, from bracelets and pins to dash-mounted options specifically made for your vehicle.
Check vision and hearing
It’s also important to make sure that your vision and hearing tests are up to date. Your optometrist can help you confirm your eye prescription, so you have the right lenses to see clearly on the road. You may also consider special lenses to help deflect the blinding sunlight of a clear day or anti-reflective lenses to prevent glare from nighttime driving.
It is also recommended that seniors check their hearing to ensure that you have the proper hearing aids needed to make car horns and the other sounds of the road more easily identifiable when driving.
Add roadside assistance
Much as we try to avoid them, we can’t prevent all natural hazards we might face on the road, so emergency road service is critical in the event of an incident. Roadside assistance typically offers 24/7 support for unexpected events such as a flat tire, requiring a jump-start or needing a tow.
Take a driver safety course
Regardless of how old you are and how many years of experience you have behind the wheel, there is always room to brush up on your driving skills. A driver safety course is an easy way to hone safe driving habits and refresh your knowledge of the rules of the road. It could also save you significantly, lowering your car insurance rates from some of the nation’s best car insurance companies if you can leverage safe-driving discounts.
Plan for time
It’s easy to feel rushed when you are running late for an appointment, but remember to slow down and take your time. The biggest mistakes happen when we are in a hurry, so be sure to follow the legal speed limit and drive with caution. It won’t be the end of the world if you are a few minutes late for your appointment, but it could be the end of your world if you sacrifice your safety with reckless or risky driving. If others are in a hurry on the road, that can affect your safety as well. Be sure to give plenty of room and stay in the right lane when possible, so faster drivers can get around you safely.
Basic vehicle maintenance is part of the cost of owning a car, which helps to ensure that your vehicle is running in top shape whenever you need to go somewhere. Be sure to keep your windshield clear of debris and make sure washer fluid levels are topped off so your view stays clear. Other fluids to check include brake fluid, which keeps your brakes in good working order, and power steering fluid, which ensures you are not compromised in your ability to steer with ease. Your mechanic can check and refill these items for you as needed during a regular oil change.
Prepare for weather
Depending on where you live, you may need to prepare for inclement weather. Snow and ice can present an increased risk of accidents on the road, especially during the holidays, while summer storms like hurricanes and tornadoes can compromise visibility.
If you live in an area with cold weather, be sure to prepare your vehicle with special seasonal accessories. This includes keeping such necessities as tire chains, an ice scraper, de-icing spray, jumper cables, road flares and a first-aid kit in your trunk. A winter maintenance check-up with your local mechanic can ensure that your vehicle is working properly, like your heater, defroster, radiator, belts, hoses, brakes and lights.
Despite your best efforts, you may come into contact with infected surfaces while outside of the home. The best way to protect yourself is to regularly use hand sanitizer every time you enter your vehicle, using an EPA-approved disinfectant to wipe down your steering wheel, gear shift and control dials. Wearing gloves while pumping gas is an extra protective measure you can use to limit your exposure.
There are several additions you can install or use in your vehicle to make it more accessible and comfortable for you when driving, such as special non-slip shoes. Extra handlebars or steps can make getting in and out of the vehicle much easier, while a swivel cushion and assist straps can also help improve mobility. Wheelchair ramps and docking stations may also be covered by your car insurance for drivers with disabilities, although coverage will depend on your medical needs and insurance policy.
Mirrors and cameras
Visibility is one of your biggest aids when driving, so windows, mirrors and cameras should always remain clear and unobstructed. Before you turn on your vehicle, check your mirrors to ensure proper placement, and adjust as needed for best visibility. If you experience many blind spots or otherwise have impaired vision in your vehicle, consider installing additional mirrors to eliminate blind spots and ensure that you can see clearly around you at all times.
There are many resources available to help senior drivers before, during and after you get back on the road. Here are a few:
|Type of Support||Description|
|Winter driving||AAA Winter Driving Tips from America’s leading automotive and driver support service.
The National Safety Council educates drivers on the best safety tips for driving during winter and other inclement weather.
|Driver safety courses for seniors||AAA Senior Driving can help with driver improvement courses for seniors through its Roadwise Driver program.
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) offers valuable information regarding safe driving practices, in addition to classroom and online driver safety courses.
|State driving laws for seniors||National Council on Aging (NCOA), a non-profit dedicated to supporting seniors in all aspects of their lives, including time spent on the road.
The U.S. Administration on Aging offers its Eldercare Locator to help seniors find free or discounted transportation services.
|Car modification/add-ons for seniors||The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can help you find the right resources and equipment to adapt your vehicle to meet your needs.
The Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists can help pair you with everything you need to modify your vehicle.
|Rideshare services for seniors||HopSkipDrive, an organization that helps seniors find rides for errands and receiving Meals on Wheels deliveries.
GoGoGrandparent works as a concierge service to connect seniors with a ride within minutes, with a network of participating services including Lyft and Uber.
|Apps/assistive accessories for senior driver safety||The National Aging and Disability Transportation Center (NADTC) provides active transportation support and resources.
iTNAmerica is a national network that pairs seniors with door-through-door transportation.