For a great deal of people, being able to drive is an important part of keeping their independence as the years pile up. However, with age, people’s driving capabilities are subject to change. If you still want to continue driving safely as a senior, you need to minimize the risk factors involved and adopt some safety driving practices. Do keep in mind that even if you realize that you might need to drive less or give up driving altogether, it’s not the end of the world. There are many health and social benefits you can reap from using some other forms of transportation, which would breathe a new life in your everyday commute.
How does age affect driving?
It is important to mention that different people age differently, and therefore, it is difficult to say when someone should give up driving. It is also known that seniors are much more likely to receive traffic citations and get involved into accidents than younger drivers. This is primarily due to age, since as we get older, our sensory organs deteriorate, leading to decreased vision and hearing, including slower reflexes. Some health factors also play a role in this as well.
Age can also impact our strength and coordination, which, then, affects people’s ability to safely operate a vehicle. Some of these include:
• Pain or stiffness in the neck, which makes it hard to turn our head
• Leg pains and cramps, which makes it difficult to move our feet, be it from the brake or the gas pedal
• Loss of arm strength will make it difficult to steer the wheel in a timely fashion
• As the years pile up, you will notice that reaction times will get slower, and your attention will be greatly diminished, which will make it difficult to pay attention to everything that is happening around you.
While you might take pride in the fact that you have been driving for your whole life, and you have a spotless record, it is highly important that you recognize when you need to stop driving. The thought of losing your independence might feel shocking, but you must keep an open mind and explore some other opportunities that can help you lead an active and happy lifestyle without having to rely on your car. You never know though, as some other parts of your independence can benefit from this.
Aging doesn’t necessarily mean that you will lose your driving ability altogether. Aging-related issues can be addressed by driving more safely, adding some car modifications, and recognizing and paying attention to your physical limitations when you’re behind the wheel.
Pay attention to your health
After years start piling up, it is highly advised for you to do regular physical check-ups to make sure you’re in shape to be driving.
You should do annual eye examination and ensure that your contact lenses are up-to-date. The windshields, mirrors, and headlights of your vehicle should be kept clean, and the dashboard lights should be easily recognizable.
Hearing should also be checked every year. If the doctor recommends hearing aids, you should consider getting some, and make sure you’re wearing them while driving. However, you should practice caution when opening your car’s windows, as drafts have been known to lower the effectiveness of hearing aids.
Talk to your physician and find out if any medication you’re taking might be affecting your driving abilities. One such example is glaucoma, as tinted eyeglasses can be used to reduce glare.
Get enough sleep. While this is important for driving at all ages, older people are at higher risk of falling asleep behind the wheel. Because of that, you should make sure that you’re getting plenty of sleep and talk to your physician and enquire if any medication you’re taking might affect your sleep.
Find the car and modifications that are right for you
It is also important to make sure the car you’re driving is right for you, and equipped with all driving aids you might need in order to make your driving as safe as possible. If you need help, contact an occupational therapist or a certified driving rehabilitation specialist that can help you choose the equipment you will need for easier steering or pedal operation. Some other options include:
• Vehicles that are equipped with automatic transmission, power steering, and power brakes are recommended
• Take good care of your car, with regular maintenance to make sure it’s in good working condition
• Windows and headlights should also be always clean
Nowadays, our world is flooded with smartphones, GPS devices, digital music players, and audiobooks. Because of that, we are more distracted than ever while driving. That means that you should take some additional precautions while driving, and you can do that by:
• Keep your distance from the car in front of you
• Be extra cautious at intersections
• Make sure you’re driving with the same speed as the rest of the traffic around you
• Don’t talk or text on the phone while driving, and avoid looking at the GPS or a regular map
• Make sure that you’re giving yourself enough braking distance. Remember that if you double your speed of driving, this doesn’t mean that your braking distance will double as well – it will quadruple, or more if you’re driving on a wet or icy road.
Find out what you can and can’t do
If there’s any part of driving that you feel uncomfortable with, do your best to avoid it. As we get older, many of us will make some adjustments to our driving habits. Some of the most common ones include:
• If night driving starts to become an issue, daylight driving becomes a preference
• Avoiding freeways and highways in order to stay away from fast traffic
• Avoiding unfavorable weather conditions
• Do route planning before traveling in order to increase confidence and getting lost.
Listen to what other people have to say
If some of your relatives, friends, or your spouse gets worried about the way you drive, you should consider reevaluation of your driving abilities. This evaluation should be performed by a certified occupational professional. Additionally, you should consider refreshing your driving abilities by taking another driving course, and talking to your doctor so as to find out if you’re still able to drive safely.
A certified driver rehabilitation professional will be able to do an in-depth evaluation of your driving skills, and provide some insight if you need to do some modifications to your car that would make your driving safer. This driving evaluation will also be useful to reassure your relatives and close friends of your driving abilities, with it being a nonbiased and professional opinion. If you need help finding such a professional, you can consult with your medical physician or take a look at the additional resources we have provided at the end of this article.
Early signs of driving deterioration
More often than not, the signs of deterioration in driving abilities will show up gradually, and some sudden changes in your health can make them even worse. While some of these early signs might look negligible, they eventually add-up and start posing a greater risk. Some of these early signs include:
• Close calls, dents and/or scrapes on the car or fences, garage doors, or mailboxes
• An increased number of traffic tickets by law enforcement officers
• Having trouble with some basic driving skills such as lane changes, drifting into different lanes, or sudden, unexplained braking or accelerating. Some other ones can include not using turn signals, or keeping such turn signals on even when not changing lanes
• Sigh issues such as failing to see traffic lights and street signs, or needing to approach them closely in order to read them easier
• Hearing issues like not hearing emergency sirens or horning
• Memory issues, which include missing exits that otherwise wouldn’t pose an issue, or getting lost with increased frequency. While it is natural for everyone to make errors like these from time to time, if these occurrences start to increase in frequency, you should consider consulting a doctor
• Reflex and motor issues, like not being able to respond with timely fashion, such as sudden braking, looking back, mistaking the gas with brake pedal, or increased agitation while driving.
When the time comes to put away the keys
At first, giving up the car will prove to be a challenging task. Feelings of frustration, anger, and increased irritability are all normal when it comes to this. You might also start feeling ashamed and worried that you have suddenly started losing your independence, but don’t forget – only a really courageous person will choose to give up on driving, putting the safety of them and others around them first.
In time, you fill find out that there are many benefits to be had when living without a car. One of them is saving more money that you would otherwise spend on car maintenance by spending them on public transportation such as taxies and/or shuttles. If this is not your preferred method of getting around, walking is very beneficial to your health, and since it’s considered a form of exercise, your body and mind will also benefit from it, increasing your alertness, mood, sleep, overall energy and memory. Using public transportation can also be a good way of meeting new people and socializing. As times goes by, you will find that life is much better when living at a slower pace, rather than driving everywhere, which brings stress caused by bad traffic and reckless drivers.
Giving up driving will be easier if you have several alternative options for transportation. You need to make sure that you will still be able to effortlessly go buy groceries, make visits to the doctor’s office, visit friends, and keep on doing your hobbies and social activities. Find out what public transportation is like in your area, check your ride-sharing options such as Uber or Lyft, ask around if there are any seniors’ community shuttles.
Giving up your car will also provide you with another perspective of your living situation. If you live in an isolated area that has little to no transportation options, you should start thinking about moving to a better area, or take a look at some senior living options.
Discussing unsafe driving with a loved one
Older drivers will often be sensitive when discussing driving safety. For them, and most of us, having a driver’s license means more than just being able to drive a car - it’s a symbol of independence.
If you ever come into a situation where you will need to talk to an older person about their driving situation, you should pay attention to these points:
Always be respectful, as driving as one of the basic parts of independence. However, don’t back down if your concerns have a basis, or if you are intimidated.
Be more specific, or, in other words, don’t just tell someone that they can’t drive safely anymore. Instead, give examples of the issues you have noticed, such as reduced mobility or slower reflexes when using brake or gas pedals.
Bring someone with you when you talk to the person in question. In situations where several family members of close friends have witnessed that person’s driving abilities have deteriorated, there are less chances of it being considered as baseless accusations. We’re more likely to listen if an unbiased person is present, such as a doctor or a driving professional.
Provide an assistance with finding other options. The person in question might have been driving for so long that they never bothered to find out if there are some other alternatives to getting around town. You can help them with this by providing assistance when looking for some alternatives or offering to give them a ride when you’re able to.
Be understanding. Your loved one might experience some loss of independence when confronted with the possibility of giving up their car, which has sometimes been linked with depression and social isolation. Because of this, you should provide help with this as much as you can. If deemed safe, and your loved one’s driving abilities haven’t deteriorated to more dangerous levels, you can offer them the option to slowly stop using their car, making the transition easier. An example of this is not driving during nighttime or on highways, or start using shuttles to doctor’s appointments.
What to do when senior drivers don’t want to give up driving
At times, older people have to be stopped from driving even though they might not want to do it on their own. You can do this by making an anonymous report to the DMV or local licensing authority. Some other options include taking away their keys, selling the car, or asking the police for assistance.
- Red Flags for Medically Impaired Driving – Medical conditions, acute events, and medications that can impact driving. (National Highway Traffic Safety Organization)
- We Need to Talk…Family Conversations with Older Drivers (PDF) – Guide to talking to a senior about their driving (TheHartford.com)
- Drivers 65 Plus: Check Your Performance (PDF) – A driving self-awareness quiz. (AAA)
- Before You Give Up the Keys Create a Roadmap for Transportation Independence – (PDF) Practical tips on utilizing available resources. (Eldercare Locator)
We can Help! Our local advisors can help your family make a confident decision about senior living.