Safe Driving for Older Adults

Driving represents independence. It gives you the ability to visit friends, go to the movies, and shop without relying on anyone else. There are, however, special concerns about health and safety for drivers over the age of 75. Older drivers tend to have fewer accidents than younger ones, but are more likely to be killed due to injury or other medical conditions.

What problems can affect driving ability?

Driving skills vary widely at all ages. Health problems that might cause trouble with driving for older adults include:

  • Poor vision. You are more likely to have problems with your vision as you get older. Examples of vision problems include cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration. These problems may cause problems with glare from oncoming headlights, streetlights, or shiny objects, especially at dawn, dusk, and night. A yearly eye exam is important for some people with health problems as well as older drivers. Ask your healthcare provider about driving.
  • Poor hearing. Something as simple as earwax can create hearing loss. Being unable to hear sirens or horns is very dangerous. A healthcare provider can diagnose and treat hearing problems.
  • Poor flexibility and limited range of motion. You need to be able to turn your head, neck, and shoulders while driving or parking. If this is not possible, you may not see vehicles or obstacles near your car.
  • Loss of muscle strength. In an emergency, you need to be strong enough to turn the wheel or slam on the brakes quickly.
  • Slower reaction time. As people get older, they react less quickly. Allowing extra space between cars helps reduce the chance of accidents, but eventually your reactions may become too slow for road safety.
  • Less ability to focus or concentrate. Medicines might make you sleepy, confused, or very nervous while driving. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease may cause drivers to get lost or to forget to do things such as turning on the headlights after dusk or using turn signals.

What are some signs of unsafe driving ability?

Signs that you are an unsafe driver may include:

  • Always asking passengers to help check if it is clear to pass or turn
  • Being unable to judge distances between cars
  • Drifting across lane markings or often bumping into curbs
  • Driving either too fast or too slow
  • Failing to yield to other cars who have the right-of-way
  • Ignoring your car’s mechanical problems
  • Ignoring, disobeying, or not understanding street signs and traffic lights
  • Not noticing or not responding quickly to pedestrians, bicyclists, and other drivers
  • Bumping other cars while parking, or parking in odd places (such as pulling up on the grass instead of the driveway or taking up 2 parking spaces)

What can I do to drive more safely?

Here are some things you can do to drive more safely:

  • Avoid driving at dawn, dusk, or night.
  • Drive only in areas that are familiar to you. Avoid driving to places far away from home.
  • Avoid highways and rush-hour traffic.
  • Choose a car that is easy to drive, with automatic transmission, power steering, and windows that give you a good view of what’s around you.
  • Avoid distracted driving. Shut off cells phones and GPS devices. Avoid eating, drinking or a loud radio while driving. Watch for other drivers who may be distracted.
  • Avoid driving alone.
  • Take a refresher course on driving. Courses and information are available from the AARP and AAA.
  • Let someone else do the driving. Many cities offer special discounts for seniors on buses and trains. Senior centers and community service agencies may provide vans or other options.
  • While it may be hard to do, think about giving up your car before your family or friends force you into that decision or make that decision for you.

What should I do if I think that someone should stop driving?

If you feel strongly that someone cannot drive safely, you should try to get them to stop driving.

  • Talk to the driver. They might get defensive or angry when you raise the subject of their driving abilities. It helps if you include family members, healthcare providers, clergy, and anyone else they respect. It is best to include them in the decision-making process, if at all possible, rather than make the decision for them.
  • Contact the local Department of Motor Vehicles and report your concerns. Depending on state regulations and the person’s disabilities, it may be illegal for them to continue to drive. The DMV may require them to take physical or mental exams or retake vision, written, and driving tests. After reviewing a person’s fitness to drive, the DMV may suspend, revoke, or restrict the license. Typical restrictions prohibit nighttime driving, require the vehicle to have additional mirrors, or restrict driving to specific places or distances from the driver’s home.
  • You may need to take the keys, disable the car, or move it to where the person can’t use it. While this may seem extreme, it can save lives.

For more information, contact:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-06-17
Last reviewed: 2014-06-16
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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