Certain abilities naturally decline over time. The skills required to drive, for example, can deteriorate with age. A person’s vision, hearing, strength, reflexes, and reaction times could diminish in old age, leading to a driver that may need certain accommodations to drive safely – or perhaps should no longer be on the road at all. Senior citizens can self-assess their driving skills using this 2019 checklist to find out if they should or should not continue driving. Knowing when to retire from driving could save a life.
Eyesight is a common ability to lose in older age. Senior citizens may experience losses in eyesight over time that cause blurred vision, far or nearsightedness, and issues such as spots or flares in vision. Eye diseases such as glaucoma and cataracts can worsen natural vision loss. Eyesight losses can cause driving problems such as the inability to read traffic signs, misjudging the distance of a vehicle or object, trouble recognizing places, or having to deal with glare on one’s glasses from the sun or headlights.
Good vision is crucial as a driver. If a senior citizen notices problems reading street signs, recognizing familiar faces from across the street, seeing lines in the road or vision in general, he or she should get an eye exam. An eye doctor may be able to prescribe different lenses to remedy the problem or explain to the individual that he or she should no longer be driving. It may be especially dangerous for senior citizens with vision problems to drive at dusk, dawn, and at night.
Most people underestimate the physical nature of driving. Although a driver remains in a seated position, he or she needs a certain amount of strength, flexibility, and physical fitness to safely operate the vehicle. Reduced physical capabilities could interfere with the ability to drive safely in old age.
- Neck or shoulder limitations. The inability to look over one’s shoulder could make it unsafe to drive. Looking over the shoulder is important while reversing, changing lanes, and checking for vehicles at intersections.
- Back pain. Back pain could make it difficult to endure long periods in the car. Back soreness or stiffness can reduce flexibility and potentially lead to muscle spasms that cause temporary disabilities.
- Stiff joints. Stiffness in the legs or arms could interfere with a driver’s ability to move the steering wheel or switch the foot from gas to brake. Even a few seconds’ delays in reaction time could contribute to a car accident.
A senior citizen may be able to improve physical fitness in the hopes of retaining the driving privilege by exercising more often (with a doctor’s approval), stretching, attending physical therapy, and visiting a doctor for issues such as neck stiffness or swelling in the feet.
Reaction time is an extremely important skill to have behind the wheel. A driver’s ability to react to unexpected situations is what prevents motor vehicle accidents. Old age can negatively impact a person’s reaction times. An older person may lose the ability to multitask, make quick decisions, judge gaps in traffic, stay awake behind the wheel or react in time to prevent a collision. It is common for seniors to experience issues that affect reactivity. Taking certain medications can make these issues worse.
- Loss of confidence
- Health problems
It may be time to hang up the keys if an elderly person experiences a significant health problem, such as seizures or dementia, that can make it too dangerous to drive. Otherwise, a senior citizen may be able to improve reaction times and reduce the risk of accidents by avoiding medications that cause drowsiness, planning routes ahead of time, avoiding driving in rush hour traffic, keeping ample distance between vehicles, scanning far down the road, and avoiding left turns that do not have green arrows. If a senior citizen does not possess all the skills on this checklist, it may be unsafe for him or her to continue driving.