When older drivers self-regulate, they modify or adjust their driving pattern by driving less or intentionally avoiding challenging situations in response to declining abilities. Self-regulation is one way to help older drivers maintain independence and extend the period over which they can safely drive. Older drivers use self-regulation to compensate for declining health or loss of functional abilities that can compromise driving.
Older drivers adapt and compensate for functional changes. This is supported by the fact that age-related changes in perceptual, cognitive and motor performances occur gradually over their life-span. Therefore, older driver make the appropriate stage adjustments in order to maintain a similar level of performance.
The advantage to older drivers self-regulating lessens the burden on society to intervene with them, as a group. For example, voluntary self-restriction by older drivers could lessen the need for mandatory restrictions by licensing agencies, such as prohibiting driving at night, during rush hour, on major highways, or long distances from home. As a result, appropriate self-regulation serves as a useful strategy that can not only benefit older drivers directly, but also society at large.
There are different types of self-regulation that older drivers engage in, which are strategic, tactical and life–goal. Strategic self-regulation has to do with decisions made by drivers before they actually embark on a driving trip, for example, the decision to not take a trip at all or to avoid driving situations considered to be challenging such as driving at night, during heavy traffic, or on a freeway. Tactical self-regulation happens when drivers are actually on the road, for example, maneuvering out of traffic and avoiding in-vehicle distractions, such as listening to the radio, eating or grooming. The third self-regulation type, life-goal, has to do with larger decisions in life, such as where to live in relation to destinations of choice or what kind of car to drive, in which driving safety being an important decision factor.
Being aware of their declining abilities is a necessary first step for older drivers to start self-regulation. Older drivers’ self-perceptions about their abilities directly influences their decisions to self-monitor their driving capacity. Some older drivers who sense changes in their ability and capacity to drive safely elect to shorten their driving distance, drive more slowly, decrease their night and highway driving, and are less likely to drive during rush-hour periods. These drivers use self-regulation strategies based on location, time-of-day, weather, and the types of roads to drive on to maintain their independence in driving. The most common adjustments included driving at night, avoiding specific areas due to traffic, avoiding specific areas due to road composition, avoiding driving on interstate highways, avoiding driving in the rain, and decreasing the time they spend on the road.
For older drivers, driving continues to be a symbol and means of freedom and independence. It is not unreasonable to expect that these drivers to continue to drive as long as physically and/or mentally possible. Self-regulation is a method older driver can adopt to self-monitor their condition and make the necessary adjustments to continue to drive safely.