Twenty percent of drivers on the road are age 65 or older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, yet older drivers have double the chance of having a medical condition that makes it harder for them to drive compared with younger drivers. They also are much more likely to use medications every day, some of which cause side effects and can affect the ability to drive safely.
Considering these risks, it’s a good idea to continually assess whether you can stay safely on the road if you are an older driver. Let’s first take a closer look at some of the reasons that driving becomes more challenging with age.
6 Reasons That Driving Becomes More Challenging Over Time
- Medications can cause side effects for older drivers. Four out of five older adults use one or more medications daily. The way your body reacts to medicines will change over time, and that can lead to more unanticipated side effects. Side effects such as dizziness or lightheadedness can have a negative impact on your ability to drive safely.
- Your reaction time is not as quick as it was before.
- It’s harder to handle the various demands placed on you when driving.
- Arthritis and stiff joints could make it more of a challenge to look behind you or turn the steering wheel quickly.
- Hearing loss can affect your ability to drive safely. You may not hear emergency vehicles that are nearby or sounds coming from your own car that indicate a problem.
- Older drivers could have a harder time seeing. This may be a concern initially at night when it’s harder to see due to oncoming headlights. However, common eye conditions like cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration also can affect your vision.
11 Tips to Drive More Safely for Older Drivers
1. Keep up with vision and hearing tests.
Follow any recommendations from your doctor on how often to have your vision and hearing checked. By catching vision and hearing problems early, you may be able to prevent them from getting worse. Or, you can find out if you need to limit your driving due to a vision or hearing problem (for instance, driving only during the day or sticking only to your immediate neighborhood).
2. Know about your medication side effects.
Read the labels or any instructions that come with your meds so you’re aware of their side effects. Watch out for side effects such as:
- Blurry vision
Make sure you time your doses so you are not driving if those are potential side effects of your meds. Or, ask your doctor about any other alternate medications you could use.
3. Keep up with your physicals.
In addition to your hearing and vision, the overall health of older drivers can affect their driving. During your physicals, make sure to discuss any new symptoms you have that could impair your ability to drive safely, such as confusion, dizziness, or fatigue.
4. Move more.
You’ve probably heard a lot about the benefits of regular physical activity, but did you know that it also can help you stay on the road longer? With regular physical activity like walking, strength training, and stretching, you maintain your ability to turn your body, get in and out of a car, and stay mentally alert. Of course, check with your doctor first if you haven’t exercised in a while.
5. Think ahead about road conditions.
Try your best to drive on days with good weather, while it’s daylight out, and when there is less traffic.
6. Stay focused.
You already know about the dangers of texting or using your cell phone while driving, so make sure to mute the phone or put it away. As you get older, other things going on in the car may be distracting, including music or listening to an audiobook. Stop the distractions if needed and stay focused on the road.
7. Take breaks.
If you have a longer trip ahead, take a break from the road every two hours, even if you’re feeling good. This goes for both younger and older drivers. It gives you time to stretch and use the restroom if needed. If you’re feeling sleepy, pull over somewhere that’s safe to rest until you are more alert.
8. Avoid substances of any kind when driving.
Driving while impaired is a recipe for disaster for you and fellow drivers around you. Don’t imbibe in any drinking or drugs (including medical marijuana) before driving.
9. Take advantage of helpful devices that will strengthen your driving.
For instance, steering wheel covers can make holding and turning the wheel easier if your hands hurt when you grip the steering wheel, according to the Mayo Clinic. Vehicles also have new technology that can make driving safer, such as larger dashboard features, back-up cameras, larger mirrors, and alerts that let you know if another car is beside you and you want to change lanes.
10. Look for alternate routes.
Take advantage of GPS technology to find routes that avoid highways or traffic. These can feel safer to drive.
11. Complete a refresher course.
A defensive driving course or a driving course geared toward older adults will help you brush up on your driving skills, and they also may provide you with a discount on your insurance. You can find these courses through AAA, AARP, or through your car insurance company.
Signs That It May Be Time to Get Off the Road
So what should you do if you’re not sure if your driving skills are strong enough to stay on the road? There are a few signs to look out, according to the National Institute on Aging, that could indicate a potential problem with your driving:
- You’ve had some accidents recently, even minor ones.
- It’s easy for you to get distracted while driving.
- You feel like you’re getting lost or confused more often while driving.
- Family members, friends, or doctors say they are concerned about your driving.
- You have trouble staying in your lane.
- You have confused the gas and brake pedals.
- You feel less sure about driving, and that makes you avoid it more often.
If one or more of these statements applies to you, it’s a good time to assess your driving. There are driver rehabilitation specialists that can help evaluate how your driving is and whether you are safe to drive. You can find driver rehabilitation specialists in your area through their trade association, the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists. Here is more information on what a driver rehabilitation specialist will assess when evaluating your driving if you are an older adult.
The personal evaluation of your driving may determine that you are still safe to drive but that you need certain devices or training to make driving a little easier.
An occupational therapist is another professional who can help older drivers. Occupational therapists can help evaluate driving skills, suggest adaptive equipment or vehicle modifications to make driving easier, and help with any of the emotions associated with driving retirement, according to the American Occupational Therapy Association.
If an evaluation determines that you are no longer safe to drive, this could cause some real emotions, as driving is often associated with independence. Talk about these feelings with someone you trust, and learn about alternate ways to get around in your community.