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(Dmitriy Eremenkov/Getty Images/Hemera)
(Dmitriy Eremenkov/Getty Images/Hemera)

Driving Concerns

Can I use my car's high beam headlights in the city? Add to ...

Can I drive with my high beams on in the city? – Jacob, Calgary

Bright lights, big city? Not against the law, as long as no other cars are nearby, Calgary Police say.

“It's not city vs. country,” says Staff Sgt. Paul Stacey, with Calgary Police Traffic Services. "There is a provincial law that says if you're within 300 metres of an approaching vehicle, or if you're following a vehicle that's 150 metres or closer in front of you,you have to dim your lights, wherever you are."

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If you don't turn off your high beams when closing in other cars, whether you're downtown or in the middle of nowhere, it's a $115 fine under Section 56 of Alberta’s Use of Highway and Rules of the Road Regulation.

"I guess you could drive with high beams in the city if nobody's around, but there's usually traffic," Stacey says. "I don't know why you'd need to – roads in the city are usually well lit."

When in doubt, dim your brights

So, how far is 300 metres? Pretty far, It's the length of three football fields – or about the height of the Eiffel Tower.

"It can be tough to tell the distance while you're driving," Stacey says. "A good rule of thumb is if you see somebody coming at you, dim your lights."

The dimming distance varies across Canada. In Ontario, you don't legally have to dim until you're a bit closer: within 150 metres of an oncoming car or within 60 metres of a car you're following.

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VERGE OF A NERVOUS SLOWDOWN?

My dad is 73 and is becoming the stereotypical nervous, slow senior driver. He regularly drives 10 or 15 km/hr under the speed limit. He slows down at green lights. What's going on? Does every driver end up this way? – Justin, Toronto

Pop could be extra cautious in the driver's seat because he can't see, hear or move as well as he used to – but the only way to find out is to talk to him, says the Canadian Automobile Association.

"Not everyone at 70 will wake up and be the old driver behind the wheel," says CAA spokesperson Kristine D'Arbelles. "These changes happen at such a gradual rate that we don't notice them right away. Your reader’s dad could be noticing this now."

The top three age-related changes http://seniorsdriving.caa.ca/adjusting-driving-habits/ that affect driving are worsening of sight, hearing and motor skills, D'Arbelles says.

"By age 60 you need three times as much light to see as you did when you were 20 and it continues to diminish," she says. "That makes it harder to drive at night or to drive in bad weather."

Shoulder checking essential

Peripheral vision shrinks as we age. By the time we're 75 it's a third of it's original size and that makes shoulder checking essential. D'Arbelles says.

About 60 per cent of Canadians have age-related hearing loss. That can make it tougher to hear other traffic or sirens.

"If you're having trouble hearing, you have to be extra attentive,and again, shoulder checking is really important," D'Arbelles says.

But that's easier said than done: troubles like arthritis can make it a lot tougher to turn to see.

New nerves?

Those changes are enough to make any driver nervous, and it's also possible that you're dad's always been an extremely cautious driver.

"...Ask your reader if pop always tended, even when younger, to be on the cautious side," says Gloria Gutman, Director Emerita of Simon Fraser University's Gerontology Research Centre. "Personality is essentially continuous across the life span - people who were cautious when they were young will be cautious when they are old; same goes for risk takers."

If this is new, and not just related to driving, it could be a sign that "something is amiss," Gutman says.

Retiring from the road

Deciding when it's time for seniors to drive less – say, not driving at night or avoiding heavy traffic – or when to stop driving entirely, is something we all need to talk about, D'Arbelles says. It can be a tough talk to have. The right time to stop depends on the driver. Many drivers are still safely on the road well into their 80s, she says.

"We spend 45 years planning for retirement, but we don't talk about retiring from driving," D'Arbelles says.

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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