Getting older doesn’t have to mean an end to driving. Today’s seniors are living long, active lives, and for many, maintaining mobility through driving is crucial to their sense of independence. Still, while plenty of seniors can drive safely well into their golden years, others can become unsafe behind the wheel. Here are some tips to help family members better assess the car safety of their elderly loved ones.

Who’s at risk?

Senior drivers are more vulnerable to injury and medical complications that come as a result of car accidents. In fact, the CDC reports that the risk of being injured or killed in an auto accident actually increases with age. Fatal crash rates start increasing between the ages of 70 and 74 and are highest among drivers aged 85 and older.

What age-related changes impact driver safety?

These normal, age-related changes can greatly impact driving ability and senior driving safety:

  • Loss or decline of vision and hearing
  • Impaired cognition or memory
  • Weakened coordination, strength, and flexibility
  • Medications (both prescription and OTC)
  • Certain medical conditions

What are the warning signs?

It’s not always easy to determine whether a senior is safe to drive. Some of the common warning signs to look for include:

  • An increase in traffic tickets or warnings
  • Having multiple accidents or near misses
  • Driving too slow or too fast for road conditions
  • Confusing gas and brake pedals
  • Missing traffic signals and/or stop signs
  • Weaving between lanes or having difficulty driving straight
  • Not signaling when changing lanes
  • Getting lost or disoriented on familiar routes
  • Discomfort with night driving and/or headlight glare
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How can you help reduce risk?

Seniors should be encouraged to reduce their risk on the road through:

  • Regular exercise to improve strength and flexibility
  • Annual eye exams to make sure prescriptions are current and eyes are healthy
  • Reviewing medications to consider side effects or interactions that might impact driving safety
  • Using screening tools and assessments to help evaluate driving ability
  • Avoiding unnecessary distractions while driving (eating, talking on the phone, or texting)
  • Considering alternatives to driving, such as ride sharing or public transit
  • Limiting driving to daylight hours and only the most essential destinations

Need a professional assessment?

If you’re concerned about the driving behavior of a senior you know, consult a health professional. Usually offered at hospitals and rehabilitation centers, independent senior driving assessments can help bring an objective perspective to a difficult situation. These evaluations typically include tests for vision, flexibility, strength, and cognition, followed by a road test. The decision to retire from driving is one usually not taken lightly — professional assessments can help take much of the guesswork and tension out of the decision.

Although aging and age-related health conditions may occasionally contribute to unsafe driving, not all seniors need to hand over their keys. Seniors and their loved ones should keep a careful watch on driving skills, discuss continued driving with a medical professional, and always keep the lines of communication open.

Looking for more tips on how older drivers can stay safe and save on car insurance? Check out our tips for older drivers.

Safe and smart | Car safety

about Rebecca

Rebecca is a freelance copywriter and editor living in the SF Bay Area with her husband and two kids. She enjoys productively channeling her anxiety into safety-minded articles for home and garden, running with her robot trainer, and advocating on behalf of the Oxford comma.