Being able to drive is a symbol of freedom for many older adults, but caregivers often worry about the risk of declining motor skills and cognition among senior drivers. If you’re concerned about whether an elderly driver should still be behind the wheel, there are some easy ways to assess driving skills.
Once you’ve identified concerns, you can take action to increase safety for aging parents both on and off the road.
To help determine if your aging parent should still be behind the wheel, you can run through the following steps.
Identify conditions that could impair driving skills:
If your aging parent has come home with unexplained dents on the car or seems to be struggling with signs of dementia, it’s natural to worry about driving safety. So how can you set your mind at ease? Get in and buckle up. Observe reaction times, comfort and confidence behind the wheel, and the ability to follow basic traffic rules.
If you have concerns, the AARP’s online seminars can help you talk with older adults about senior driver safety.
You can’t always ride shotgun to ensure safety for seniors. But if you’ve observed some warning signs, consider a mobile medical alert system or a more sophisticated in-car medical alert device. In-car medical alert devices for seniors can provide vehicle monitoring and automatic crash detection and response.
Visit the Eye Doctor for a Vision Test
Vision problems affect older adults more than other age groups, and blurry or diminished eyesight can prevent seniors from driving safely. While there aren’t strict age limits for driving, many states require drivers, including those over the age of 65, to pass a vision test to renew their driver’s license.1
If you have concerns about the vision of an aging parent, encourage them to visit an optometrist to diagnose health conditions, like glaucoma or cataracts, that might affect safe driving. It’s better to address the issue now than deal with the nasty surprise of having your parent denied a license—especially if they show up at the DMV expecting a rubber-stamp license renewal.
What to Expect from a DMV Vision Test
Every state is a little different, but there are some common guidelines for license renewal across the country. Generally, you’ll need to demonstrate 20/40 vision in both eyes.2 If you must wear glasses or contact lenses to pass the vision test, then the license will say corrective lenses must be worn while driving.
In some states, new applicants 65 and older are required to take a driving test, both written and behind the wheel, to be issued a five-year license.
Have Health Professionals Conduct a Medical Review
To promote senior safety, older adults should have a yearly physical regardless of their driving habits. If you’ve noticed an aging parent has warning signs of dementia or declining health, check in with a health professional. Any condition that could result in lapsed consciousness raises major red flags for older adults who drive.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows drivers over 65 are twice as likely to have a medical problem that makes driving difficult compared to other age groups.3 It’s critical that your senior driver is taking their medication and controlling any conditions like diabetes or risk of stroke.
Staying safe behind the wheel translates into more years of mobility and independence as older adults age.
Medication Tracking Methods
When caregivers are helping manage health conditions, it can be difficult to monitor whether older adults are taking critical medication. Consider using one of the following ideas to ensure seniors don’t miss a crucial medication that could affect their ability to drive.
There are a variety of safety devices that can provide some peace of mind for caregivers worried about aging adults behind the wheel. These safety measures can be inexpensive solutions like larger side mirrors to eliminate blind spots or booster seats to help shorter drivers scan for pedestrians.
Aftermarket backup alarms and dashboard cams can also improve visibility for drivers of any age, including older adults. Backup cameras were found to reduce the risk of police-reported reverse crashes by 78% when combined with sensors and automatic braking.4 Install a backup camera to avoid even minor parking lot smashups.
Aftermarket Backup Cameras
While backup cameras come standard in newer vehicles, they’re not guaranteed—especially since there are more older motor vehicles on the road than ever before.5 Getting an aftermarket backup camera is an inexpensive way to improve overall vehicle safety for every driver.
Taking a driver refresher course is never a bad idea. After all, there’s a reason many states require safe driving classes after a certain number of driving rule violations or speeding tickets.
Mature driver improvement courses like Seniors for Safe Driving or courses through AAA do more than teach driving technique. They also offer older adults an opportunity to regain confidence behind the wheel.
Double check with the insurance company to see if taking a driver improvement course will qualify for a discounted rate. In some cases, you may be eligible for discounts (no matter your age) if you pass a defensive driving or driving refresher course.
Are there other ways of helping seniors in your family stay safe on the road?
There are plenty of ways to help seniors stay safe while driving. And most older adults already practice driving habits that keep them safer on the road, including avoiding night driving and obeying the speed limit. Seniors also drive fewer miles in general and wear seatbelts more often than younger drivers.6 As caregivers, continue to encourage these safe driving practices to keep aging parents on the road longer with less risk of fatality.
My aging parent is no longer able to drive due to mobility issues. Are there other things I should do to keep them safe at home?
There are actions you should take to make home a safer place if an older adult can’t drive due to mobility or health concerns. Check out our senior safety FAQs to learn more about securing tripping hazards, preventing falls, and installing safety equipment.
What are the safest times for seniors to be on the road?
You can test senior driving skills to make sure they’re not dangerous, but there’s also a risk in sharing the road with other drivers. To keep seniors safe, we advise driving in daylight, traveling well-known routes with good lighting, and following safe driving tips for winter.
I don’t think my aging parent should be driving anymore, but they won’t give up the keys. Is there anything I can do?
This is a tricky question. While older adults have the right to drive if they have a current driver’s license, that doesn’t mean they’re safe behind the wheel. Have a candid conversation about your concerns, and if you still feel conflicted, you can file a report anonymously with the state DMV. A representative will reach out and typically require the older adult to come in for a driving and vision test.
The Bottom Line
While you might have significant concerns about aging adults’ driving habits, take heart: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety data shows seniors are less of a risk than younger drivers.7
However, the same research study found that when it comes to motor vehicle crashes, seniors have higher driver fatality rates than other age groups when they are involved in a motor vehicle crash. Researchers say this is due to the increased fragility of older adults, who are more likely to sustain life-threatening injuries during a motor vehicle crash.
If you’ve got concerns about an aging loved one’s ability to stay safe on the road, you’re not alone—and you’ve got options. Ride along to assess your loved one’s driving skills. Have their vision and general health tested. Install safety devices like a backup cam. And don’t forget driving improvement courses.
Got other suggestions for keeping aging adults adults safe behind the wheel? Let us know in the comments!
Data effective 09/09/2020. Offers and availability subject to change.
Written by Kaz Weida
Kaz is a journalist who covers home security, parenting, and community and child safety. Her work and product testing in the security and safety field spans the past four years. You can find Kaz in HuffPost, SheKnows, Lifehack, and much more. Her degree in education and her background as a teacher and a parent make her uniquely suited to offer practical advice on creating safe environments for your family. Learn more