Driving: Things to Remember As We Age

As you age, your joints may get stiff, and your muscles may weaken. Arthritis, which is common among older adults, might impact your ability to drive. These changes can make it harder to turn your head to look back, turn the steering wheel quickly, or brake safely. Below are some items and concepts to review when thinking about driving as you age, or when working with older drivers

Safe driving tips:

  • See your doctor if pain, stiffness, or arthritis seem to get in the way of your driving.
  • If possible, drive a car with automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes, and large mirrors.
  • Be physically active or exercise to keep and even improve your strength and flexibility.

Trouble Seeing

Your eyesight can change as you get older. It might be harder to see people, things, and movement outside your direct line of sight. It may take you longer to read street or traffic signs or even recognize familiar places. At night you may have trouble seeing things clearly. Glare from oncoming headlights or street lights can be a problem. Depending on the time of the day, the sun might be blinding.

Eye diseases, such as glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration, as well as some medicines, can also cause vision problems.

Safe driving tips:

  • If you are 65 or older, see your eye doctor at least every 1 to 2 years. Ask if there are any ways to improve your eyesight. Many vision problems can be treated. For instance, cataracts might be removed with surgery.
  • If you need glasses or contact lenses to see far away while driving, make sure your prescription is up-to-date and correct. And always wear them when you are driving.
  • Cut back on night driving or stop driving at night if you have trouble seeing in the dark. Try to avoid driving during sunrise and sunset when the sun can be directly in your line of vision.

Trouble Hearing

As you get older, your hearing can change, making it harder to notice horns, sirens, or even noises coming from your own car. That can be a problem because these sounds warn you when you may need to pull over or get out of the way. It is important that you hear them.

Safe driving tips:

  • Have your hearing checked at least every 3 years after age 50.
  • Discuss concerns you have about hearing with your doctor. There may be things that can help. For example, a hearing aid might make a big difference. Just remember to use it when you drive.
  • Try to keep the inside of the car as quiet as possible while driving.
  • Pay attention to the warning lights on the dashboard. They tell you when something is wrong with your car.

Slower Reaction Time and Reflexes

To drive safely and avoid accidents, you should be able to:

  • React quickly to other cars and people on the road
  • Make fast decisions while driving, following the proper rules of the road
  • As you get older, your reflexes might get slower, and you might not react as quickly as you could in the past. You might find that you have a shorter attention span, making it harder to do two things at once.
  • Stiff joints from arthritis or weak muscles also can make it harder to move quickly. You may lose some feeling or have tingling in your fingers and feet, which can make it difficult to steer or use the foot pedals. Parkinson’s disease or limitations following a stroke can make it no longer safe to drive.

Safe driving tips:

  • Leave more space between you and the car in front of you.
  • Start braking early when you need to stop.
  • Avoid high traffic areas when you can.
  • If you must drive on a fast-moving highway, drive in the right-hand lane. Traffic moves more slowly there. This might give you more time to make safe driving decisions.
  • Take a defensive driving course. Organizations like AARP, American Automobile Association (AAA), or your car insurance company can help you find a class near you. See For More Information About Driving for contact information.
  • Be aware of how your body and mind might be changing, and talk with your doctor about any concerns.

Dementia and Driving

People with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia may not be able to drive safely. They also may forget how to find familiar places like the grocery store or even their home.

In early stages of Alzheimer’s, some people are able to keep driving. But, as memory and decision-making skills get worse, they need to stop.

People who have dementia often do not know they are having driving problems. Family and friends need to monitor the person’s driving ability and take action as soon as they observe a potential problem. Work with the doctor to let the person know it’s no longer safe to keep driving. Be prepared—the person may not respond well to the news.

Safe driving tips:

Medications Can Affect Driving

Do you take any medicines that make you feel drowsy, lightheaded, or less alert than usual? Do medicines you take have a warning about driving? Many medications have side effects that can make driving unsafe. Pay attention to how these drugs may affect your driving.

Safe driving tips:

  • Read medicine labels carefully. Look for any warnings.
  • Make a list of all of your medicines, and talk to a doctor or pharmacist about how they can affect your driving.
  • Don’t drive if you feel lightheaded or drowsy.

Be a Safe Driver

Maybe you already know that driving at night, on the highway, or in bad weather is a problem for you. Some older drivers also have problems when yielding the right of way, turning (especially making left turns), changing lanes, passing, and using expressway ramps.

Safe driving tips:

  • Have your driving skills checked by a driving rehabilitation specialist, occupational therapist, or other trained professional. Driving programs and clinics can test your driving and suggest ways to improve your skills.
  • Update your driving skills by taking a driving refresher course. Some car insurance companies may lower your bill when you pass this type of class.
  • When in doubt, don’t go out. Bad weather like rain, ice, or snow can make it hard for anyone to drive. Try to wait until the weather is better, or use buses, taxis, or other transportation services.
  • Look for routes that help you avoid areas where driving can be a problem. For example, choose a route that avoids highways or other high-speed roadways. Or, find a way to go that requires few or no left turns. Left turns can be especially dangerous because you have to cross oncoming traffic and be aware of all the cars around you.
  • Ask your doctor if any of your health problems might make it unsafe for you to drive. Together, you can make a plan to help you keep driving and decide when it is no longer safe to drive. 





Information contained in this document was prepared and or used with authors’ permission, if applicable, by Posada Life. All material, copyright and protected content is reprinted with permission from original author, providing appropriate citation or is intended for general educational purposes only. Content is not intended to diagnosis or treat any specific condition. Posada Life not responsible for content or materials provided by third parties or government agencies. U.S Government cited content provided by: National Institute on Aging (https://www.nia.nih.gov/), National Institute for Health (https://www.nih.gov/), U.S. Department of Health (http://www.hhs.gov/), National Institute for Senior Health (https://nihseniorhealth.gov/).