Aging Well: Plan for a fun and safe road trip

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AARP Driver Safety Program

■ To add your name to a list for future classes at the Steamboat Springs Community Center, call the Routt County Council on Aging at 970-879-0633.

■ For information about classes held in Moffat County, call 888-227-7669.

Access the online course at www.aarpdriversafey.org.

Online

■ For road trip tips, including gas cost calculators and suggestions for traveling alone or with pets, renting cars and the best routes, visit www.roadtripamerica.com or www.independenttraveler.com.

■ For tips and resources on planning longer road trips or RV excursions, log onto www.roadtripdream.com.

Suggested emergency roadside kit

■ Cell phone

■ First aid kit

■ Flashlight

■ Flares and a white flag

■ Jumper cables

■ Jack and ground mat for changing a tire

■ Basic repair tools and duct tape (for temporarily repairing a hose leak)

■ A jug of water and paper towels for cleaning up

■ Nonperishable food, drinking water and medicines

■ Extra windshield washer fluid

■ Maps

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Editor’s note: This article originally was published in June 2008. It has been updated for accuracy.

A well-planned road trip is a fun road trip, but for older adults, in particular, a bit of forethought can prevent the headaches and emergencies that plague the worst car excursions.

Vehicle safety

No one wants to be stranded with a broken-down car, so one of the most important steps in preparing for a road trip is to schedule a preventative maintenance check with a mechanic.

Depending on how well owners have kept up with regular maintenance such as oil changes and tire rotations, a basic vehicle safety check should include inspection of tires, battery, belts and hoses, wiper blades, the cooling system, fluid levels, lights and air conditioning, according to recommendations from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

There are many gadgets and services to help give travelers more peace of mind when hitting the road.

The American Automobile Association and most car insurance companies have basic roadside assistance available for drivers. Drivers with cars equipped with OnStar technology can subscribe to the service, which allows them to connect with an adviser who then contacts emergency services. OnStar is only installed in the factory, however, and also is dependent on a vehicle’s electrical system.

In-car GPS navigation systems, though expensive, can provide drivers with colored maps, audible instructions and other features to help them navigate their routes. Drivers also can opt for navigation assistance from AAA and other companies through their cell phones.

Travelers concerned about bad weather and other hazards may want to invest in a weather radio. Available at sporting goods stores, the devices pick up local weather and emergency information and may include a built-in flashlight and other features.

If drivers are going to buy one gadget, it should probably be a cell phone, which will enable them to call for help if stranded or hurt. Companies such as Jitterbug offer user-friendly phones and pre-paid service ideal for older adults who primarily want cell service for emergencies.

Planning and other details

When planning their route, travelers should avoid major road construction projects and driving during rush hours, especially in big cities.

State departments of transportation provide updates regarding road conditions and construction projects. The Colorado Department of Transportation website, www.cotrip.org, also includes information about rest areas and points of interest throughout the state, as well as links to road information in other states.

Travelers also can access CDOT road, weather and construction information by calling 1-877-315-ROAD. Drivers approaching big cities can find out about traffic tie-ups and accidents by tuning into local radio — usually AM or news stations.

Travelers with medical conditions such as diabetes, heart, respiratory or other illnesses may want to research and make note of towns along their route that have hospitals or clinics. It’s also helpful to highlight city and state parks on maps in case drivers need places to rest, eat lunch or are traveling with children.

Finally, before leaving, travelers should give their route and schedule to a family member or friend staying at home and check in with that person regularly.

A sometimes overlooked aspect of planning a road trip is food. Although stopping at roadside diners, fast food restaurants and convenience stores is easy, too many refined carbohydrates and fried foods will make drivers feel sluggish while driving.

Enjoying healthy snacks from the cooler or local grocery stores will give road trippers a more peaceful experience on the road. At the same time, it will give them more reason to escape “anywhere U.S.A.” while getting a taste of the culture, history and environment of a place through small museums and areas of interest featured at local parks.

Dennis Weaver, author of various food articles on www.roadtripamerica.com, recommends packing fresh fruit and veggies, such as pre-cut carrot and celery sticks, grapes and cherry tomatoes, as well as homemade trail mix with nuts and dried fruit, individual servings of applesauce and canned fruit, cream cheese for dipping and homemade oatmeal cookies.

Paper plates, napkins, utensils, cups and a pocketknife will make eating healthy on the road all the more convenient.

Food poisoning can be the quickest end to a fun road trip. Weaver suggests keeping a thermometer in the top of coolers and making sure it reads below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, cleaning surfaces and coolers with a sanitizing solution and washing and disinfecting hands often.

Smart driving

Like maintaining and checking their car for safety, it’s important that drivers make sure their bodies and medical considerations are in check before hitting the road.

“Tips for Boomers planning a road trip,” an article at www.car

junky.com, suggests older travelers have their vision and hearing checked regularly and make sure to give themselves time to adjust to a new eye glass prescription before taking a long trip.

Drivers also should check with their doctor or pharmacist about whether medications they are taking may cause drowsiness or effect their driving.

Road trippers also might need to consider whether they might need a cooler (models are available that plug into a car’s cigarette lighter) for medications that require refrigeration.

Drivers should make sure they are well-rested before the trip and, while on the road, they should try to stop every couple of hours to rest and stretch, even if they don’t feel tired. Minimizing distractions (make sure grandchildren have plenty of toys and games to keep them busy) and sharing the driving responsibilities with another person can help make road trips safe and more enjoyable.

Driving in big cities or new places can be overwhelming for anyone, but older adults also must contend with changes in hearing, vision and their reaction time to potentially dangerous situations.

Drivers 50 and older who are interested in becoming more aware of how these changes are affecting their driving or just want to brush up on their driving skills, may consider taking the AARP’s Driver Safety Program, offered several times a year Steamboat Springs and Craig, as well as online.

The eight-hour course includes a self-assessment test as well as tips for avoiding aggressive drivers, driving in the mountains and on freeways and other helpful information for driving in all types of situations.

This article contains information from, “Road trip ideas in the U.S. for seniors,” at www.helium.com, and “Driving tips,” at www.independenttraveler.com.

— Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tmanzanares@nwcovna.org or 871-7606. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and better. For more information, log onto www.agingwelltoday.com or call 871-7676.

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