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All About Older Drivers: Safety Tips and Guidelines

Written by Jeff Anderson
 about the author
4 minute readLast updated April 20, 2023

News outlets have brought to national attention a spate of alarming stories about tragic traffic accidents caused by elderly drivers. Indeed, as America ages, the safety of its older drivers is being increasingly scrutinized. Many states have passed laws to keep dangerous older drivers off the road. In Oregon, for example, seniors may be required to retake the state driving test if they exhibit physical or mental warning signs, have a poor driving record, or have been reported to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). But driving is not only a means of transportation; it can be a symbol of independence for older Americans. So, older people shouldn’t be forbidden to drive simply because they’ve reached an arbitrary age. Whether they drive should be determined by their capabilities.

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How aging can affect driving abilities

For seniors considering their own driving ability, the key is self-awareness. As put by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the guide Driving Safely While Aging Gracefully, “People who can accurately assess their fitness to drive can adjust their driving habits. With smart self-management, you can retain the personal mobility that comes with driving, while limiting the risks to yourself and others.”
It’s particularly important for seniors to be mindful of changes in their body (including from medication side effects) that can make driving dangerous.
These changes can include:
  • Decreased vision
  • Drowsiness
  • Decreased reaction time or coordination
  • Decreased range of motion

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Our free tool provides options, advice, and next steps based on your unique situation.

Signs a senior is an unsafe driver

To help seniors gauge their own driving abilities, in these realms and others, the American Automobile Association (AAA) hosts a free and confidential interactive driving evaluation on their website.
It’s also wise to watch out for the safety of older friends and family members who may not notice or admit that they have a reduced ability to drive.
Here are some tell-tale signs of dangerous driving to look out for:
  • Frequent and unexplained dents, scrapes, and dings on the car
  • Receiving more traffic citations or warnings than usual
  • Overlooking traffic signals, exits, or road markings
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Difficulty staying in the lane of travel, or having difficulty changing lanes

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How to address a parent's driving abilities

For those who suspect that their older loved one is not driving safely, it may be time to sit down and have a conversation. The NHTSA published a document, How to Understand and Influence Older Drivers, to help concerned loved ones approach this delicate topic. Suggestions include riding along with your loved one to see how well they drive firsthand and carefully recording your observations should you need to share them with your loved one’s doctor or the local DMV. In the most difficult situations, when an older driver is not being reasonable or realistic about their driving ability, you can contact the the local department of motor vehicles to request that they directly intervene.
Seniors should realize that giving up the car keys doesn’t mean being stuck at home. To learn more about local transportation options for seniors and people living with disabilities, contact your local Area Agency on Aging, which can be located at eldercare.acl.gov/.


Meet the Author
Jeff Anderson

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal or financial advice or create a professional relationship between A Place for Mom (of which OurParents is a trademark) and the reader.  Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site.  Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does not recommend or endorse the contents of the third-party sites.