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Driving and older adults

Driving - seniors; Driving - older adults; Driving and seniors; Older drivers; Senior drivers

As you get older, driving a car allows you to stay independent and mobile. Yet aging changes such as loss of sight or hearing and slowed reflexes can interfere with your ability to drive safely. Learn about common issues older drivers face, how to keep driving safely, signs that it may be time to cut back or stop driving, and alternative ways to get around.

Information

Certain physical and mental changes can make it harder for older adults to drive safely:

  • Muscle and joint pain and stiffness. Conditions such as arthritis can make joints stiffer and harder to move. This can make it hard to grasp or turn the steering wheel. You also may have trouble turning your head far enough to check out your blind spot.
  • Slower reflexes. Reaction time often slows with age. This makes it harder to react quickly to avoid other cars or obstacles.
  • Vision problems. As your eyes age, it's common to have a harder time seeing clearly at night due to glare. Certain eye conditions can cause vision loss, which makes it harder to see other drivers and street signs.
  • Hearing problems. Hearing loss makes it harder to hear horns and other street noise. You also may not hear sounds of trouble coming from your own car.
  • Dementia. People with dementia may get lost more easily, even in familiar places. People who have dementia often do not know they have driving problems. If a loved one has dementia, family and friends should monitor their driving. People with severe dementia should not drive.
  • Medicine side effects. Many older adults take more than one medicine. Certain drugs or drug interactions can affect your ability to drive, by making you drowsy or slowing reaction times. Talk with your doctor about any possible side effects of medicines you are taking.

Tips for Safe Driving

Despite challenges that come with age, there are many things you can do to keep driving safely well into your later years. Try these tips:

  • Update your driving skills with driving refresher classes.
  • Avoid driving in bad weather or during high traffic times or at nighttime.
  • Have regular eye exams and don't drive at night if you can't see clearly in the dark.
  • Avoid risky spots like ramps and left turns. Plan your route before you leave home.
  • Take a route on the streets you know best. Drive only for short distances close to your home.
  • Don't drive when you are stressed or upset.
  • Avoid distractions. Never use a cell phone when driving, even with a headset. Consider not using the radio at times when you need your full concentration, such as a in a new area or in poor weather.
  • Take care of your car. Keep up routine maintenance and keep your headlights and windows clean so you can see clearly.
  • Make sure you have your hearing checked every 3 years after age 50. Talk with your doctor about your hearing concerns. If needed, get hearing aids.
  • If you have them, always wear your glasses and hearing aids when driving.

Warning Signs it May Be Time to Stop

There are certain warning signs that your driving days may be numbered.

  • You often get lost, even in familiar areas.
  • You find dents on your car and garage door at home.
  • You have frequent close calls with other drivers.
  • You physically find it hard or painful to turn your head to see, grip the steering wheel, or move your foot from one pedal to another.
  • You get confused about which pedal to press while driving.
  • You often notice that other drivers honk at or complain at you.
  • You become distracted easily and find it difficult to concentrate while driving.
  • You find it difficult to follow traffic signals, road signals, and pavement markings.
  • You receive a lot of traffic tickets or warnings.
  • You have frequent fender-benders.
  • You speed or drive too slowly.
  • You stop at green lights or a spot with no stop sign. Or you run red lights or stop signs.
  • Your family, friends, or health care providers have expressed concern about your driving.

If you notice any of these issues, you should reconsider continuing to drive.

How to Get Around When You Stop Driving

Not driving yourself does not mean you have to give up your independence. Here are ways to stay mobile and active.

  • Ask your loved ones or a friend to help you and set aside a time when they can drive you to the places you want to go.
  • Look into local senior health services that provide transportation in your area.
  • See if your church, temple, or religious center has a program to help with transportation for older adults.
  • Try mass transit, like the bus or train. This will help you travel safely and economically.
  • Try driver services or taxis for short distances or when there is no other option. Using these services at times is still less expensive than owning a car.

To find out what services may be available in your area, call 1-800-677-1116, or go to -- eldercare.acl.gov to find your local Area Agency on Aging.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Older adult drivers. www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/older_adult_drivers. Updated November 30, 2017. Accessed April 4, 2018.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website. Older drivers. www.nhtsa.gov/road-safety/older-drivers. Accessed April 4, 2018.

National Institute on Aging website. Older drivers. www.nia.nih.gov/health/older-drivers. Updated December 31, 2018. Accessed April 4, 2018.

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          Review Date: 5/12/2018

          Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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