Driving Issues for Older People

As people age, their driving abilities inevitably change.

However, by reducing risk factors and incorporating safe driving practices, many people can continue driving safely long into old age It is critical, however to pay attention to any warning signs you might spot in your elderly parent’s driving, which might interfere with their safety and those of others and, if necessary, make appropriate adjustmentsEven if your ageing parent has to reduce the amount they drive or stop altogether, it does not
necessarily mean the end of their independence, as there are alternative methods of transportation can offer health and social benefits, as well as a welcome change of pace to life

There has been a huge increase in elderly drivers in the UK

In 1975, only 15% of UK driving licences were held by people over the age of 70. Today it’s 57%

This is partly due to the fact that since the 1970s, it has been far more affordable and achievable to be able to buy a car

Older people are generally very safe drivers and the over-60s have fewer accidents than all other age groups

Many older people regulate their driving habits to avoid late night driving, or driving in bad weather

How does ageing affect driving?

Everyone ages differently, so there is no arbitrary cut off as to when someone should stop driving and the number of older drivers is increasing. However, as people age, factors such as decreased vision, impaired hearing, or slowed motor reflexes may become a problem. Older people may experience a reduction in their strength, coordination and flexibility, all which can have a major impact on their ability to safely control a car

  • Pain or stiffness in the neck can make it harder for your ageing parent to look over their shoulder to change lanes, or look left and right at junctions to check for other traffic or pedestrians
  • Leg pain can make it difficult for older people to move their foot from the accelerator to the brake pedal
  • Diminished arm strength can make it hard to turn the steering wheel quickly and effectively.
  • As reaction times also slow down with age, they may be slower to spot vehicles emerging from side streets and drives, or to realise that the vehicle ahead of them has slowed or stopped
  • Keeping track of all the road signs and markings, as well as all the other traffic and pedestrians, can also become more difficult as the elderly lose their ability to divide their attention between multiple activities
  • Your ageing parent may have driven their entire life, and take great pride in their safety record, but as they age, it is critical that they realise that their driving ability may change

What are the warning signs?

  • Medication  can affect senses and reflexes. Always check the label on medicines and double check with your ageing parent’s GP if they are taking several medications, or notice a difference after starting a new medicine
  • Eyesight problems can interfere with your elderly relative’s ability to focus or can affect peripheral vision. They may also experience extra sensitivity to light, have trouble seeing in the dark, or have blurred vision. Regular eye tests are essential and making sure your ageing parent has the right prescription in driving glasses or lenses. You can also help by making sure their windscreen, mirrors, and headlights are clean and by turning up the brightness  on their dashboard
  • Hearing problems. If your ageing parent’s hearing is deteriorating, they may not hear emergency sirens, or if someone is accelerating next to them, or the honking of a horn. Regular hearing tests are important and try to encourage your parent to wear their hearing aid whilst driving
  • Problems with reflexes and range of motion. Reactions times needed for breaking, or looking around quickly, may slow and stiff necks may make full mobility difficult
  • Problems with memory can mean that your ageing parent may begin to get lost more frequently, or get confused about road systems. If you are worried, make an appointment with their GP, or contact Memory Services

Find the right car and any aids your elderly relative might need for driving

Choosing an automatic car, rather than a manual, will help, as will power steering, and power brakes

Help them to keep their car in good working condition by keeping the services up to date

If you are worried about your ageing parent’s driving, seek advice

An occupational therapist, or certified driving specialist can provide a comprehensive evaluation of your parent’s driving skills

They can also recommend car modifications, or tools to keep your elderly relative driving as long as possible

You can also discuss any concerns with their GP

What happens if your ageing parent can no longer drive?

Adjusting to life without a car may be challenging at firstand your parent will undoubtedly feel frustrated, angry, or irritable

They may also feel ashamed, or worry that they are losing their independence

You can point out the benefits of not owning a car to help them adjust:
  • Saving money on car insurance, maintenance, registration, and petrol
  • Improving their health as they may have to walk more
  • Expanding their social circle if they have to share lifts to and from places
  • Helping them find alternative transport with buses, trains, car shares and taxis
  • Motorised wheelchairs can be a good way to get around, if your parent lives in an area with easily accessible shops and well-paved streets

How to broach the subject of not driving with your older parent

  • Be respectful. Understand why they may be very reluctant to stop, but make your worries clear at the same time
  • Give specific examples as this will make your argument stronger, rather than generalising
  • Find strength in numbers. If more than one family member or close friend has noticed, it’s less likely to be taken as nagging, or ask an expert to talk to them
  • Suggest concrete alternatives so they still feel able to get out and about and will not feel isolated
  • Understand the difficulty of the transition as your ageing parent may experience a profound sense of loss having given up driving. Don’t dismiss their feelings, but try to help with the transition as much as possible
  • If your ageing parent will not stop driving and you are seriously worried, speak to your GP, or contact the DVLA

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