Older Drivers

Assessing How Changes Can Affect Your Driving

Some of the changes you experience as you get older can affect your ability to drive safely. The good news is that people who keep track of changes in their eyesight, physical fitness, and reflexes may be able to adjust their driving habits so they stay safe on the road.

The following questions will help you decide if physical changes have affected your driving skills. Helpful tips about coping with these changes are also provided so that you can remain a safe driver for as long as possible.

 

How is your eyesight?

How is your eyesight?

Do you have trouble…
  • Reading signs easily?
  • Recognizing someone you know from across the street?
  • Seeing street markings, other cars, and people walking—especially at dawn, dusk and at night?
  • Handling headlight glare at night?
If you said “Yes” to any of these questions, you should…
  • Make sure you always wear your glasses and that the prescription is current.
  • Keep your windshield, mirrors and headlights clean.
  • Make sure that your headlights are working and aimed correctly.
  • Sit high enough in your seat so you can see the road at least 10 feet in front of your vehicle.
  • If you are 60 or older, see an eye doctor every year.

Do you have control over your vehicle?

Do you have control over your vehicle?

Loss of strength, coordination and flexibility can make it hard to control your vehicle.

Do you have trouble…
  • Looking over your shoulder to change lanes?
  • Moving your foot from the gas to the brake pedal?
  • Turning the steering wheel?
  • Walking less than a block a day?
  • Going up or down stairs because you have pain in your knees, legs or ankles?
If you said “Yes” to any of these questions, you should…
  • Check with your doctor about physical therapy, medicine, stretching exercises, or a walking or fitness program.
  • Know that an automatic transmission, power steering and brakes, and other special equipment can make it easier for you to drive your vehicle and use the foot pedals.
  • Reduce your driver’s side blind spot by moving your mirrors.
  • Watch for flashing lights of emergency vehicles.
  • Listen for sounds outside your vehicle.

Does driving make you feel nervous, scared, or overwhelmed?

Does driving make you feel nervous, scared, or overwhelmed?

Do you…
  • Feel confused by traffic signs, and people and cars in traffic?
  • Take medicine that makes you sleepy?
  • Get dizzy, or have seizures or losses of consciousness?
  • React slowly to normal driving situations?
If you said “Yes” to any of these questions, you should…
  • Ask your doctor if your health or side effects from your medicine can affect your driving.
  • Take routes that you know.
  • Try to drive during the day (avoid rush hour).
  • Keep a safe distance between you and the car ahead of you.
  • Always scan the road while you are driving so that you are ready for any problems and can plan your actions.

Are loved ones concerned?

Are loved ones concerned?

Sometimes other people notice things about your driving that you might have missed. Have people you know and trust said they were concerned about your driving?

If you said “Yes” to any of these questions, you should…​
  • Talk with your doctor. Ask him or her to check the side effects of any medicines you are taking.
  • Think about taking a mature driving class. The AAA, AARP and driving schools offer these classes.
  • Try walking, carpooling, public transit, and other forms of transportation.

Do you drive with children or young adults?

Do you drive with children or young adults?

If you drive with children or young adults, you carry an extra responsibility.

When used the correct way, car seats and seat belts offer the best protection for children and adults who are traveling in motor vehicles. All 50 States, as well as Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico, require that children be properly secured in a car seat or seat belt, as appropriate for their age and size. Most States also require that motorists and adult passengers be properly buckled in a seat belt.

Although the vehicle user manual and car seat instructions will provide the best information, the following guidelines will help you to decide if the young people you are transporting are traveling safely. And don’t forget, the back seat is the safest place for children 12 and under in a vehicle.

Birth to 12 Months – Your child under age 1 should always ride in a rear-facing car seat. There are different types of rear-facing car seats: Infant-only seats can only be used rear-facing. Convertible and 3-in-1 car seats typically have higher height and weight limits for the rear-facing position, allowing you to keep your child rear-facing for a longer period of time.

1 to 3 Years – Keep your child rear-facing as long as possible. It’s the best way to keep him or her safe. Your child should remain in a rear-facing car seat until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer. Once your child outgrows the rear-facing car seat, your child is ready to travel in a forward-facing car seat with a harness.

4 to 7 Years – Keep your child in a forward-facing car seat with a harness until he or she reaches the top height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer. Once your child outgrows the forward-facing car seat with a harness, it’s time to travel in a booster seat, but still in the back seat.

8 to 12 Years – Keep your child in a booster seat until he or she is big enough to fit in a seat belt properly. For a seat belt to fit properly the lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snug across the shoulder and chest and not cross the neck or face. Remember: your child should still ride in the back seat because it’s safer there.

To have your car seat inspected by a certified technician, visit www.safercar.gov/cpsApp/cps/index.htm

For many older adults, driving is a sign of independence. While most senior citizens want to keep driving for as long as they can, no one wants to be a threat to themselves or to others because they are no longer able to drive safely. Self-awareness—both physical and mental—is the key to preserving independence and to driving safely.

Don’t forget:

  • When you are driving or riding in car, always wear your seat belt. Make sure that every person who is riding with you is also buckled up.

Tips to Drive Safely While Aging Gracefully

Decisions about your ability to drive should never be based on age alone. However, changes in vision, physical fitness and reflexes may cause safety concerns. By accurately assessing age-related changes, you can adjust your driving habits to remain safe on the road or choose other kinds of transportation.

If you’ve noticed changes in your vision, physical fitness, attention and reaction time, it’s important to keep alert to how these changes may be affecting your ability to drive safely. One way to stay safe while driving is by making sure you understand how medical conditions can impact your ability to drive safely. Another way is by adapting your motor vehicle (PDF, 629 KB) to make sure it fits you properly, as well as choosing appropriate features, installing and knowing how to use adaptive devices, and practicing good vehicle maintenance.

Alternative Transportation

Depending on where you live, there are often many ways of getting around town without having to use your own car.  Even if you just want to drive less, there may be more options available to you for getting around than just your family or friends. You may be surprised to find that any one of them is easier than driving and parking your car.

When tabulating the cost of using another kind of transportation, don't forget to factor in the money you will save in decreased or eliminated costs of owning, maintaining, insuring and parking your car. Look at the cost of the service and the level of convenience you need for each trip you take - you might end up using all of the services at different times.

Know Your Options

  • Learn what is available in your community.

  • Potential services include:
    • City buses, trams and subway systems
    • Taxi cabs and personalized driver services
    • Shuttle buses, such as those offered by churches, senior centers and retirement communities
  • Your local Area Agency on Aging can lead you to transportation services and benefits you might not be aware of.

  • If public transportation service is available in your area, ask a friend to help you. Going with someone who knows how to ride the bus or subway may make you feel more secure.

  • Ask questions about the services and schedules of each type of transportation available to you, including whether they offer evening or weekend rides.

 Reprinted from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  Used with permission