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How Aging Affects Driving Ability

As we age, we experience a steady decline in certain skills that are important for safe driving. Beginning at around age 55, there is a gradual decrease in our ability to process information, to remember, and to make judgments in traffic situations such as determining the necessary distance and approach of oncoming traffic.

While drivers aged 65 and older are involved in fewer total crashes than other age groups, there are more crashes compared to the number of miles driven. This also applies to injuries, where the number of injuries is less, but the severity is dramatically higher.

To help you better understand how your driving can be affected by specific conditions, NHTSA has developed brochures on driving while suffering from various following ailments.  Access these and other brochures on their site http://www.nhtsa.gov/Driving+Safety/Older+Drivers. Then click on "Driving when suffering from..." under Additional Resources on the right.


Vision is the primary sense used in driving. Visual declines represent the most significant losses for aging drivers who need more light to distinguish features along the roadway and must be closer to read traffic signs and follow other traffic cues. Older eyes also need more time to recover from the glare of bright headlights at night.

In Florida, all drivers 80 years of age or older who are in the process of renewing their driver license are required to pass a vision test. This test may be administered at a driver license or tax collector office at no cost to you.

You can learn more about Florida's Mature Vision Test Requirements on the DHSMV's GrandDriver website.

Effect on Driving:

  • Ability to see other vehicles
  • Traffic signals
  • Signs
  • Lane markings
  • Road conditions
  • Pedestrians
  • Equipment and controls on own vehicle


  • Near and far vision
  • Depth perception
  • Visual attention
  • Peripheral vision
  • Light and dark sensitivity
  • Glare effects


Cognition involves perception, attention, learning, memory, thought, visual processing, reading and problem solving. Driving is a very complex activity that requires a number of these skills, whether driving a short or long distance. Drivers must remember how to operate the vehicle, what the traffic signs and signals mean, and know their destination and how to get there safely. Drivers must be able to do all these things in addition to processing any other additional information that may encounter when they are behind the wheel.

Effect on Driving:

  • Ability to recognize
  • Traffic conditions
  • Locations
  • Destinations
  • Process the information
  • Make appropriate decisions
  • Ability to recognize understand operation of own vehicle


  • Memory
  • Attention
  • Recognition
  • Speed of decisions
  • Judgment

The MindAlert Resource Center is a searchable database on mental fitness and aging. It offers articles on key issues,Click here to go to top of page bibliographic listings and reviews of other materials, links to websites and information about mental fitness programs throughout North America. This clearinghouse of materials will be useful to both consumers (older adults and family members) and professionals as they seek the latest information and practice on maintaining and improving cognitive capacity in the later years of life. 


According to NHTSA, dementia affects a number of critical abilities needed for safe driving including perception and visual processing, an ability to maintain attention and respond to multiple stimuli, an ability to make correct decisions, and to act appropriately in difficult traffic situations. Individuals in the early stage of the disease may be able to operate a vehicle under normal circumstances, but have difficulty with changing circumstances, and may often become lost.

Effect on Driving:

  • Ability to maintain attention
  • Respond to multiple stimuli
  • Make correct decisions
  • Act appropriately in difficult traffic situations


  • Decline of cognition due to loss of or damage to nerve cells in the brain

Memory Disorder Clinics

There are 15 memory disorder clinics located throughout Florida that provide comprehensive assessments, diagnostic services, and treatment to individuals who exhibit symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and related memory disorders. The clinics also develop training programs and materials and conduct training for caregivers, respite service providers and health care professionals to help care of persons with Alzheimer's disease and related memory disorders. You can visit the DOEA website to view a location map and contact information to help you find a Memory Disorder Clinic near you.

Physical Condition

Aging can affect muscle strength, endurance, flexibility, and range of motion - skills that are needed in safe driving. NHTSA sponsored the development of the American Medical Association (AMA) Physician's Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers. However, the AMA no longer publishes the guide, it is currently being revised by the American Geriatrics Society and the link will be posted when it becomes available.

Effect on Driving:

  • Ability to perform physical movement to control own vehicle


  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Reaction Time

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Exercise is important at any age but particularly for older adults who need exercise to maintain strength and flexibility - abilities that contribute to safe driving. Exercise can also help reduce arthritis pain, anxiety, and depression.

A study by the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity (2011) researched the effects of exercise on the ability of older drivers to respond quickly to challenging situations.  The results determined that on-the-road driving tasks were improved.  Read the report, Exercise Can Improve Speed of Behavior in Older Drivers.Health gymnastics

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons states that a safe effective exercise program can help reduce some of the aches and pains that are a part of getting older.  Read more about how to slow down the progression of conditions associated with aging on their website Seniors and Exercise.

The National Institute on Aging has an Age Page with brochures, videos, and information on Exercise and Physical Activity: Getting Fit for Life.

Making exercise and physical activity a regular part of your life can improve your health and help you maintain your independence as you age. See the National Institute for Health website for Exercises for Older Adults.

Staying Well

The Federal Interagency Forum of Aging-Related Statistics Older Americans 2012: Key Indicators of Well-Being is a periodic report that describes the overall status of the U.S. population 65 years of age and older. The report includes 37 indicators that are grouped into five sections: Population, Economics, Health Status, Health Risks and Behaviors, and Health Care.

View NHTSA's video toolkits on medical conditions in older drivers and visit their website for more videos.



Driving ability can also be affected by medications including those prescribed by a physician and those purchased over-the-counter. In many cases, older adults may not be aware of the affects of medications have on driving taken singly or in combination.

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