Seniors and Driving: What Should You Know?

Updated on October 17, 2019

Whether you’re someone who’s in your senior years and you want to retain your sense of independence, or you have an elderly parent, driving can often be a source of contention. 

Various factors can potentially make driving more challenging for seniors. For example, vision issues can become more pronounced the older we get, and accidents caused by sun glare are common, as are other accidents related to eyesight and vision. 

There are cognitive issues that may be at play as well, but all of this doesn’t mean that once you hit a certain age you shouldn’t be able to drive anymore. It does mean some things might change or need to be watched for. 

The following are things to consider whether you’re a senior driver or your loved one is.

Facts and Statistics About Senior Drivers

According to AAA, senior drivers are outliving their ability to safely drive anywhere from 7 to 10 years on average. 

This doesn’t mean all senior drivers are unsafe, though. Seniors do exhibit certain driving-related behaviors that make them safer than other demographics. For example, they’re less likely to drink and drive and more likely to wear their seatbelt and follow speed limits. 

However, if a senior is in an accident, they’re more likely to be injured or killed because of age-related factors like weaker bones. 

Seniors do have the highest crash rate per mile driven aside from teen drivers, but they drive fewer miles than teen drivers. 

The following are other facts and statistics about senior drivers, cited by AAA:

  • Weaker muscles and reduced flexibility reduce how easily a senior can both grip and turn the steering wheel. These factors also affect the use of the brake and accelerator.
  • More than 75% of drivers who are 65 and older say they use at least one medication. 
  • Deadly crash rates start going up at age 75, and they rise very significantly after the age of 80. 

Factors Impacting Seniors Driving Ability

Some of these have been briefly touched on, but major factors that play a role in diminished driving abilities among seniors include:

  • Health conditions such as dementia or Parkinson’s disease
  • Vision impairment—around 90% of the information we need to be safe drivers comes from our ability to see well. 
  • Hearing impairment—as we age, hearing loss is natural but can be problematic when it comes to driving
  • Prescription drug use and interactions between drugs

What Are Senior Driver Red Flags To Look For?

Maybe you are wondering if you should continue driving, or perhaps you’re questioning and loved one’s driving ability. Either way, red flags include:

  • If your loved one starts to get a lot of traffic tickets or their insurance rate is higher than it once was, it could be a red flag, especially if this is a change of pattern for your loved one. 
  • Seeing damage on a vehicle or damage to their home or things around their home could be something to watch for in your loved one. 
  • If you are a senior and you’re starting to feel reluctant to drive or anxious about it, you might want to consider what’s causing that feeling. 
  • You might want to ask friends or neighbors of your loved one if they’ve seen anything going on with driving that could be a problem. 

Some tests and exams can be conducted to determine if someone is a safe driver or not. 

For example, there are certified driver rehabilitation specialists. They can evaluate a person’s driving abilities and make a recommendation as to whether or not it would be best for them to stop driving. 

If an older person is determined to still be a fairly safe driver, the specialist might be able to recommend changes that could help them be better drivers or safety devices they could use. 

The DMV may be helpful to you if you’re concerned about the driving abilities of a loved one. 

You can use the DMV website for your state and find information on common driving issues for older adults. They will often have driver-improvement programs listed as well, and some states have a dedicated representative who can help older adults and their families. 

If you’ve very worried and your loved one refuses to stop driving, making you believe there is a serious risk, you can file an unsafe driver report with the DMV. Typically the DMV will then request testing, including a medical evaluation.

Based on what the DMV finds, they may restrict the driver’s license, or they might revoke it completely. 


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