How to Help Aging Parents Drive Longer

Anything your aging parents can do to preserve their vision, hearing, and mobility will help them stay safe on the road. But imperfect health doesn’t have to be a total deal-breaker, thanks to smart technology like blind spot warning systems.

Still, you should plan for your parent’s eventual “driving retirement” when physical and cognitive changes make it too difficult to drive. Learn what to look for and how to navigate this tricky conversation.



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1. Start a conversation about driving retirement

Driving equals independence for many people, and the thought of losing that independence can stir up a lot of emotions. Your parent needs time to sort out how they feel about handing over the keys, so don’t wait until the last minute to discuss the when, why, and how of driving retirement.

You’ll need to talk about the possible physical and mental changes that would make driving unsafe so your parent knows where they can draw the line—or where you’ll put your foot down.

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What does unsafe driving look like?

Spend some time in the passenger seat to get a feel for how your loved one is driving. Observe reaction times, comfort and confidence behind the wheel, and the ability to follow basic traffic rules.

You can also use AAA’s Drivers 65 Plus self-rating questionnaire for more insight.

To make the transition seem less daunting, develop an action plan to preserve your parent’s mobility as much as possible. That could mean you elicit the help of friends and family to drive them, teach them how to use a rideshare program, or sign them up for a senior transport service.

Telling your parents what to do isn’t easy, so make the process as collaborative as you can. For step-by-step guidance on talking about driving retirement, check out this resource from The Hartford: We Need to Talk: Family Conversations for Older Drivers.

2. Encourage regular check-ups

To promote safe aging, older adults should have a yearly physical regardless of their driving habits. But in terms of driving safety, they should get checked for any condition that could result in these symptoms:

  • Lapsed consciousness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Vision loss
  • Numbness in the arms and legs.

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.1 It’s critical that your parent is taking their medication and controlling any conditions like diabetes or risk of stroke.

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Medication tracking methods

Ensure seniors don’t miss a crucial medication that could affect their ability to drive:

  • Use an app to send medication reminder alerts.
  • Purchase a pill organizer to avoid confusion and possible overdoses.

Read more about our recommended medication tracking devices and medication safety tips.

Eye appointments are crucial too

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, some states require drivers, including those over the age of 65, to pass a vision test to renew their driver’s license.2,3 

If you have concerns about the vision of an aging parent, encourage them to visit an optometrist to diagnose health conditions that might affect safe driving, like glaucoma or cataracts. It’s better to address the issue now than deal with the nasty surprise of having your parent denied a license.

Hearing loss also affects driving confidence

Studies suggest that older drivers who experience hearing impairments in one or both ears are less likely to drive in rush-hour traffic, on high-speed roads, or at night.4 

Encourage your parent to visit their ENT if they’re struggling to hear and seem to avoid driving in the above circumstances. A hearing aid may be all it takes to restore their confidence behind the wheel.

3. Adapt their vehicle for improved safety and comfort

Approximately 90% of older drivers haven’t modified their vehicle to accommodate changes in comfort and mobility.5 Those accommodations affect safety too, since aches and pains can make it hard to push a brake pedal or check a blind spot.

Perhaps older drivers simply don’t know what kind of gadgets to look for to make them safer and more comfortable behind the wheel. As it turns out, quite a few products exist to help drivers as they age—and many of them cost less than $20.

Blind spot mirror, warning sensor, or intervention system

SafeWise recommends
Utopicar Blind Spot Mirrors
$11.69 (2-pack)

Amazon.com list price as of post date. Offers and availability subject to change. Read full disclaimer.

Aging adults with limited mobility in their upper body may struggle to look over their shoulders to check blind spots. Equip their vehicle with an extra set of eyes for safer merging:

  • Blind spot mirrors attach to the vehicle’s side mirrors for extra visibility. They’re affordable and easy to install. Check out this budget-friendly pair by Utopicar (about $12 on Amazon) or consider replacing the rearview mirror with a panoramic mirror.
  • Blind spot warning systems display lights to tell the driver when someone’s in a blind spot. They typically cost several hundred dollars and require professional installation. We like the EWAY Radar Blind Spot Detection System because it features lane change assistance and rear traffic warnings too.
  • If your aging parent ignores the warning light and starts to move over, a blind spot intervention system could save the day—the car lightly brakes and/or steers away from the obstacle to avoid a collision. Unfortunately, you’ll have to go car shopping (try Infiniti or Nissan) for this tech since it isn’t available as an aftermarket add-on.

Parking sensors and backup cameras

Best backup camera
yada backup camera
Yada
$119.99

Amazon.com list price as of post date. Offers and availability subject to change. Read full disclaimer.

Backing out of a parking spot or parallel parking also become difficult when you’ve got stiffness or pain in your neck, shoulders, and back. Cameras help here too.

Light Bulb
Combine car safety tech for best results

Backup cameras reduce the risk of police-reported reverse crashes by 78% when combined with parking sensors and automatic braking systems.6 

Steering wheel knobs

SafeWise recommends

Amazon.com list price as of post date. Offers and availability subject to change. Read full disclaimer.

Pain or limited mobility in the hands, arms, and shoulders can make it difficult to hold or turn the steering wheel. A simple steering wheel knob gives your loved one’s hands a break through a modified grip. They also make one-handed turns possible.

Most steering wheel knobs retail for under $20, like this one from Hypersonic (about $17 on Amazon). 

Other accessibility accessories

  • Pedal extenders allow older adults to drive while sitting a safe distance from the steering wheel when they experience limited mobility or muscle weakness in their legs.
  • Seatbelt reacher handles help your loved one buckle up without overextending their shoulders.
  • Swivel seats make it easier to get in and out of the car without becoming unbalanced. Sit first, swing the legs second. Use a leg lifter for extra oomph.
  • The Stander HandyBar gives drivers something to push on with their left hand as they get in and out of the car. Some people might prefer to pull against the Stander CarCaddie for extra stability.

4. Plan for emergencies

A car crash can happen to anyone, even if they tick all the boxes for safe driving. But older drivers are at a significant disadvantage—they’re more likely to sustain life-threatening injuries in a car crash simply because they’re more vulnerable to injury in the first place.7 While you don’t have full control over a car accident, you can plan ahead to try to improve the outcome if one happens.

Install a crash detection device or app

Mortality rates increase the longer it takes for emergency medical services to arrive on the scene of a car crash.8 And given older adults’ higher probability for injury as it is, you definitely want EMS to get there as soon as possible if your aging parent’s ever in a car crash.

Fortunately, tech can help speed things up so your loved one isn’t waiting for passersby to call for help. A car crash detection device like Hum by Verizon automatically calls 911 and sends GPS data to dispatchers once a crash is detected. The Noonlight app has an affordable car crash detection feature too, and soon all iPhones might have the same functionality free of charge.9 

If your parent drives a vehicle equipped with OnStar, you’ve already got crash-response technology at your fingertips—just make sure you subscribe to a monthly OnStar plan to activate it.

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Keep a Vial of Life in the glove box

A Vial of Life tells emergency responders about your loved one’s medical conditions, medications, hospital preferences, and more. Keep a copy in the glove box.

Use a GPS tracker

Your loved one might experience bouts of confusion and disorientation as they age. Whether or not it’s severe enough to prevent them from driving is something you’ll want to discuss with their doctor. In the meantime, be prepared for the possibility that your parent could head home from the grocery store and get totally lost—or go to the house they lived in 40 years ago.

If your loved one is confused, they might not be able to explain where they are. That’s where the GPS tracker comes in handy.

You can go the discreet route with a vehicle GPS tracker that plugs into the car’s OBD port. Other GPS trackers—like the AngelSense, Jiobit, or Angel Watch Series R Assist—are meant to be worn. Your parent contacts you by simply pressing a button.

If you’re worried you’ll miss their call, consider a professionally monitored mobile medical alert. We like the Aloe Care Health Mobile Companion because it’s easy to stay in the loop when your loved one contacts the monitoring center. You can even hop on a three-way call with the center and your loved one to plan a course of action.

5. Recommend professional driving evaluations and courses

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 AAA Roadwise do more than teach driving techniques. They also offer older adults an opportunity to regain confidence behind the wheel.

Consider attending an in-person or virtual CarFit event with your parent too. The CarFit program teaches aging drivers how to adjust the position of their steering wheel, seat, mirrors, and more to achieve a safer, more comfortable driving position. These free evaluations take about 20 minutes and are endorsed by AARP, AAA, and AOTA (the American Occupational Therapy Association).

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Check for an insurance discount

Double check with your parent’s car insurance company to see if taking a driver improvement course will qualify them for a discounted rate.

Senior driving safety FAQ

Each state has their own rules. Some require people of a certain age to pass a vision test for every license renewal. Others require you to renew your license in person once you reach a specific age. Check with your state driver licensing agency to verify the policy.

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.

Related articles on SafeWise


Sources

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Older Driver Safety Awareness Week,” November 2017. Accessed April 13, 2022.
  2. Paul G. Steinkuller, AMA Journal of Ethics, “Legal Vision Requirements for Drivers in the United States,” November 2010. Accessed April 13, 2022.
  3. Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, “License Renewal Procedures by State,” April 2022. Accessed April 13, 2022.
  4. L.J. Molnar et al., AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, “Effects of Hearing Impairment on Driving Exposure and Patterns Among a Large Cohort of Older Drivers: AAA LongROAD Study,” December 2020. Accessed April 13, 2022.
  5. Andrew Cross, AAA, “90 Percent of Senior Drivers Don’t Make Vehicle Adjustments That Can Improve Safety,” November 2017. Accessed April 13, 2022.
  6. Sarah Karush, Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, “Status Report Newsletter, Vol. 53, No. 1,” February 2018. Accessed April 13, 2022.
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Older Adult Drivers,” November 2021. Accessed April 13, 2022.
  8. James P Byrne et al., JAMA Surgery, “Association between Emergency Medical Service Response Time and Motor Vehicle Crash Mortality in the United States,” April 2019. Accessed April 13, 2022.
  9. Rolfe Winkler, The Wall Street Journal, “Apple Wants iPhones to Detect Car Crashes, Auto-Dial 911,” November 2021. Accessed April 13, 2022.

Disclaimer

Cathy Habas
Written by
Cathy Habas
With over seven years of experience as a content writer, Cathy has a knack for untangling complex information. Her natural curiosity and ability to empathize help Cathy offer insightful, friendly advice. She believes in empowering readers who may not feel confident about a purchase, project, or topic. Cathy earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Indiana University Southeast and began her professional writing career immediately after graduation. She has contributed to sites like Safety.com, Reviews.com, Hunker, and Thumbtack. Cathy’s pride and joy is her Appaloosa “Chacos.” She also likes to crochet while watching stand-up comedy specials on Netflix.

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