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.
Aging can impact safe driving in the following ways. Click on the hyperlinks to see more information and links to resources.
|Change||Description||Effect on Driving|
|Vision||Near and far vision, depth perception, visual attention, peripheral vision, light and dark sensitivity, and the affect of glare||Ability to see other vehicles, traffic signals, signs, lane markings, road conditions, and pedestrians
Ability to see equipment and controls on own vehicle
|Cognition||Memory, attention, recognition, speed of decisions, and judgment||Ability to recognize traffic conditions and locations/ destinations, process the information, and make appropriate decisions
Ability to recognize and understand operation of own vehicle
|Dementia||Decline of cognition due to loss of or damage to nerve cells in the brain||Ability to maintain attention, respond to multiple stimuli, make correct decisions, and act appropriately in difficult traffic situations.|
|Physical Condition||Strength, flexibility, reaction time||Ability to perform physical movement to control own vehicle|
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.
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.
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.Other Resources
- The Department of Elder Affairs 2010 study "Florida Dementia Friendly Transportation Research Project" builds off their 2008 study where they were able to develop a definition for dementia friendly transportation as: "Going beyond senior friendliness, a transportation service that considers the special needs of passengers with all stages of memory loss."
- The National Center on Senior Transportation's "Research to Practice: Driving Cessation and Dementia" article provides insight into current knowledge about the transition from driving for older adults with dementia.
- NHTSA's Alzheimer's and Driving brochure.
Aging can affect muscle strength, endurance, flexibility, and range of motion - skills that are needed in safe driving. NHTSA sponsored the development of the AMA Physician's Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers. A new version was released in March 2010 and the PDF version along with information on how to obtain a CD ROM can be found on their website.
The Federal Interagency Forum of Aging-Related Statistics report “Older Americans 2012: Key Indicators of Well-being” was released last month. This 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.
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.
- The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence and the MIT AgeLab has research based information on Exercise for Mature Drivers to enhance your driving wellness to help you stay safe on the road for a lifetime.
- AARP and the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA) offer an easy-to-use service as a way to find age-friendly facilities. Visit the ICAA website to find a location near you.
- National Institute on Aging's Exercise and Physical Activity: Getting Fit for Life.
- National Institute for Health - Exercise for Older Adults.
- American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons - Seniors and Exercise.
The MindAlert Resource Center is a searchable database on mental fitness and aging. It offers articles on key issues, 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.
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.
- AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety developed Roadwise RX, a free online tool designed to allow you to record your prescription and over-the-counter medications in one central location, and to receive personalized feedback about how drug side effects and interactions between medications may impact your safety behind the wheel.
- AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety "2009 Older Adults' Knowledge About Medications That Can Impact Driving".
- NHTSA's Driving When You Are Taking Medications.
- NHTSA's report "Polypharmacy and Older Drivers: Identifying Strategies to Study Drug Usage and Driving Functioning Among Older Drivers".