Visual, cognitive, and physical skills that affect driving ability decline with increasing age. Older drivers often have difficulty seeing objects at dusk and in the evening. Judgment may become impaired, making them less able to react at higher speeds and make turns in front of oncoming traffic. Also, medical conditions such as arthritis or weakening muscles and joints can make it challenging to safely operate a vehicle. The American Society on Aging (ASA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have developed a series of handouts designed for multiple conditions (cataracts, diabetes, glaucoma, macular degeneration, sleep apnea, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis) that you may find informative.
While most older adults compensate for these age-related health issues, some do not. It’s those who fail to compensate for physical or mental declines and those who do not stop driving if their limitations cannot be addressed, who suffer a higher risk of causing crashes.
Changes in our medical conditions are inevitable. With each new diagnosis, individuals may want to discuss with their doctor the impacts it may have on driving safely. The same is true about medications. New medications may bring side effects that they will need to be aware of as they consider driving habits. How medications interact may also contribute to side effects that impede vision, hearing, functional, or cognitive capabilities. It is important to ask medical professions about the impact that medical conditions and new medications have on safe driving, even if they do not bring it up.
As we age, doctor office visits may start to include questions about driving experiences, whether the older road user feels safe and comfortable driving, if there are certain driving conditions that lead to more fear or anxiety than others. Their doctor may also suggest consultations with a medical specialist, Driving Rehabilitation Specialist, or Occupational Therapist to best identify how they can improve driving safety.
Older drivers can assess their driving skills and learn why medical conditions affect driving with Plan For the Road's Assess Your Driving Skills as well as How Aging Affects Driving.