Experts estimate that the basic skills needed to be an effective driver begin to deteriorate around age 55. As people get older, it is very important that they work hard to maintain their driving skills and be aware of their changing abilities. Mild limitations in reaction time, vision, or hearing can often be compensated for by an older driver who diligently practices safe, defensive techniques on the road. However, it is also important that an older person remain realistic about their abilities – at a certain point, it may be necessary to stop driving and seek alternatives.
Retiring from driving can have profound consequences for an older person, including feelings of isolation and depression, so it is a good idea for elders to work hard to maintain safe driving skills for as long as possible. After age 60, an elder should retake their driving test on a regular basis, perhaps once every two years. Retaking the test regularly will allow a senior driver to more effectively remember and “internalize” safe driving skills that might have eroded over time. It will also serve as a relatively early warning if they become unfit to drive safely.
To maintain driving skills for as long as possible, an older person should get regular vision and hearing checkups. Drivers depend enormously on their ability to monitor road conditions through both visual and auditory cues. Even if someone’s natural hearing ability is beginning to erode, the use of appropriate hearing aids can often sharpen their hearing enough to continue driving. Likewise, an elder’s prescription for eyeglasses should be updated at least every 12 months. Some older people may develop vision issues requiring check-ups every six months.
To support an elder’s driving, their primary vehicle should be looked at by a mechanic on a regular basis. The “quirks” of a vehicle that might not bother younger people can endanger the elderly by making the car handle unexpectedly. Routine maintenance, such as oil changes, tire rotation, and checking the brakes and transmission, should be handled diligently. This will help to ensure that there are no surprises when an older person heads out onto the road – making them, and the motorists around them, that much safer. This also serves to build their confidence.
Older people as a group are at an increased risk of suffering from both insomnia and depression. An older person should drive only when they feel fully rested. Likewise, it’s a good idea for elders to talk with a doctor about their medications and any drug effects that might impair their ability to drive. Managing chronic conditions is crucial to effective driving by the elderly. As a person ages, they should also seek out optimal driving conditions and avoid poor driving conditions. That means avoiding driving at night, during inclement weather, or in high traffic.
Elderly people wish to maintain the freedom that driving offers them, and doing so can help them live a rich and full life in their later years. While there comes a time when virtually anyone will have to stop driving, that time can be later rather than sooner. By devoting themselves to safe driving practices and utilizing their own self-knowledge, elder drivers can contribute significantly to highway safety. The extra effort is often worth it in terms of self-esteem and independence, so do your best to help your elderly loved one stay safe on the road.
- Florida Senior Safety Resource Center for Senior Driving
- Senior Driving Safety Course
- Can In-Vehicle Technologies Improve Senior Driving Safety?
- Tips To Make Elderly Driving Safer
- Driving Self-Assessment Resources for Elderly Motorists and Those With Parkinson’s
- Elder Drivers and Traffic Safety: A Report Comparing Practices in the U.S. and Japan (PDF)
- Research and Information on Elder Driver Safety, Evaluation, and Related Topics
- Elderly Driver Safety and Comfort Research Report (PDF)
- Driver’s Resources from the Emory Center for Health in Aging
- Introduction to the Legalities of Imposing Age Limits on Elders’ Driving Privileges (PDF)
- AARP Driver’s Safety Programs
- When and How Should Families Intervene to Help an Impaired Older Driver?
- Workshop Materials for Senior Driver Safety Program (PDF)
- Alternative Transportation for Seniors: Why Is It Important and What Makes It Work? (PDF)
- “When to Stop Driving” Warning Signs
- Driving Simulator Used to Train and Help Older Adults and Those With Driving Impairments
- Tips for Driving Safety and Self-Evaluation
- End of the Road: The Science of Knowing When Elder Drivers Need to Let Go of the Wheel
- Older Driver Education Resources
- Senior Driver Fact Sheet
- Safe Driving Self-Assessment Resources (PDF)
- How Aging Affects Driving
- Facts About Driving and Aging (PDF)
- Older Drivers and Aging Overview
- Senior Driver Issues: Safe Home Alabama
- Baltimore County, Maryland Department of Aging Safe Driver Resources
- Senior Safety Tips, Including Driving Tips
- Senior Safety Driving Pamphlet (PDF)
By Ted Burgess