To some extent, driving improves with age. Drivers ages 16 to 25 may be more aggressive and inexperienced, receiving more citations, and causing more accidents than other age groups. However, studies show that vision, hearing, reflexes, and cognitive abilities may deteriorate with age, and the proportion of people over age 75 who drive and are in accidents is comparable to young drivers. In addition, older drivers are more susceptible to injury. What a younger driver might consider a minor accident could result in an elder's injury or death.
It is best to be prepared and consider alternate means of transportation (buses, taxis, personal drivers, shuttle buses) before driving problems develop. Test the options out with a friend who already uses them to decide which meet your needs best.
At the same time, some simple steps may prolong one's time behind the wheel.
- Schedule periodic eye exams, update prescription glasses, increase the brightness on the vehicle's instrument panel, keep the windshield and headlights clean, and replace faulty windshield wipers.
- Schedule periodic medical exams, ask physicain specific questions related to your driving status. Ask if there is any occupational of physical therapy that may help with driving.
- Choose a car with automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes, and an easy-to-read instrument panel.
- Reduce noise and distractions, e.g. limit conversations and turn down the radio and air conditioner or heater vents.
- Use extra caution: Avoid driving in inclement weather, check traffic when changing lanes, look before backing up, and use signals, mirrors, and the horn.
- Plan ahead, e.g. take easier routes, avoid rush hours, and avoid driving in the dark.
- Take a driving test to assess abilities, or take a course to sharpen skills and learn new strategies. Courses, such as the AARP's Driver Safety Program, may help an older person become a better driver, and it may qualify the driver for an insurance premium discount.
- If you have concerns about your driving, slowly start trasitioning to other forms of transportation (ie. bus, ride sharing, taxis, family, walking, etc.)
On the other hand, it may be time to make some significant changes if many of the following describe your driving:
- You have trouble recognizing or observing traffic signs and signals.
- You do not hear emergency sirens.
- Everyone else seems to drive too fast or too slow. Others might think you are driving at an inappropriate speed.
- You have had some close calls recently. For example, do you need more time to make driving decisions or do your decisions seem to be poor ones afterwards? Do you misjudge gaps in traffic? Do some cars seem to "come out of nowhere" and surprise you? Do you get honked at more? Have you had several moving violations in the last three years?
- You have physical difficulty driving. For instance, do you have trouble moving your foot from the gas to the brake? Do you have trouble turning to look over your shoulder? Do you take medications that cause drowsiness, dizziness, seizures, or blackouts?
- You get angry or confused driving. For example, do intersections seem overwhelming with so much to watch?
- Do you forget how to drive to familiar places?
- You feel exhausted after driving.
Even though it is a delicate topic, family members should discuss with friends and physicians concerns about an elder's driving. If a loved one continues to drive despite symptoms of incompetent driving, there are ways to discourage or prevent him or her from driving. For instance, directly expressing the concerns, arranging other forms of transportation, or taking the person for a driving test or course could help protect this friend or relative.