Driving Skills in Older Adults

For many older adults, the time may come when they can no longer drive safely. If you are at that point in your life, you might question whether your health, vision, and reaction times are still good enough to drive. You may feel less confident on the road. You may notice more people are honking at you, or that you are having trouble staying in a lane. You may even have trouble remembering which pedal is the gas and which is the brake. Friends or family members might have asked if you can still drive safely. If you are concerned, talk with your doctor. He or she can check your health and find out if you have the skills necessary for safe driving.

Path to improved safety

Your doctor will understand your desire to drive and be independent. He or she will do a thorough exam to check your physical and mental capabilities. Conditions that could impact your driving include:

  • Poor eyesight. For example, if you don’t have good night vision, you shouldn’t drive after dark. Eye conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration can impair your vision.
  • Arthritis. Stiff, achy joints affect your flexibility and your ability to react quickly.
  • Medical conditions, such as vertigo (dizziness), Parkinson’s disease, and seizure disorders, for example.
  • Concentration. 
  • Hearing. If you have difficulty hearing, you may not notice horns, sirens, or even noises from within your car.
  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Forgetting where you’re going in the middle of a trip can be dangerous.

If your doctor feels your health will get in the way of driving, he or she is required by law to report that information to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Remember, your doctor is concerned about your safety. He or she doesn’t want you to hurt yourself or other people on the road.

If you do not have health problems that would make it risky for you to drive, your doctor may still suggest you improve your driving skills. Physical or occupational therapists may be able to help you remain confident in your driving. Changes to your car, such as hand controls or wide mirrors may make it easier for you to drive. And not listening to the radio while driving may help you hear important sounds. If your reaction times are slowed, your doctor may recommend avoiding high traffic times, highways, and allowing more space between you and the car in front of you.

Things to consider

Most older adults want to be independent and have the freedom to be on their own. Giving up driving is a change in lifestyle that you may not want to face. However, remember that your safety is important to your family and to the public. If you get lost, have near-misses with other cars, or have an accident, the results could be fatal. Rather than risk your life or the lives of others, you should use other kinds of transportation.

Friends and family members will give you rides. Don’t feel uncomfortable asking for rides. For example, you can choose to visit the grocery store with a friend. You can go to a social event with a relative who is also planning to attend. You can use public transportation, such as taxi cabs, city buses, or shuttle services. Some towns and cities have special transportation services for older adults.

Many people are angry when their driving is limited or when they’re not allowed to drive at all. This reaction is understandable. Although you feel angry now, try to imagine how you would feel if you were injured or if you hurt someone else. For your safety and for the safety of others, follow your doctor’s advice. Don’t drive if you’ve been told it isn’t safe.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Is there a certain age most older adults stop driving?
  • I’m uncomfortable driving at night and I’m only in my 50s. Is this normal?
  • Should you avoid driving while getting chemotherapy cancer treatments?
  • Can medicine be affecting my driving skills?

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