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Driving and older adults

Certain physical and mental changes can make it harder for older adults to drive safely:

  • Muscle and joint pain and stiffness. Conditions such as arthritis can make joints stiffer and harder to move. This can make it hard to grasp or turn the steering wheel. You also may have trouble turning your head far enough to check out your blind spot.
  • Slower reflexes. Reaction time often slows with age. This makes it harder to react quickly to avoid other cars or obstacles.
  • Vision problems. As your eyes age, it's common to have a harder time seeing clearly at night due to glare. Certain eye conditions can cause vision loss, which makes it harder to see other drivers and street signs.
  • Hearing problems. Hearing loss makes it harder to hear horns and other street noise. You also may not hear sounds of trouble coming from your own car.
  • Dementia. People with dementia may get lost more easily, even in familiar places. People who have dementia often do not know they have driving problems. If a loved one has dementia, family and friends should monitor their driving. People with severe dementia should not drive.
  • Medicine side effects. Many older adults take more than one medicine. Certain drugs or drug interactions can affect your ability to drive, by making you drowsy or slowing reaction times. Talk with your doctor about any possible side effects of medicines you are taking.

Alternative Names

Driving - seniors; Driving - older adults; Driving and seniors; Older drivers; Senior drivers

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Older adult drivers. www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/older_adult_drivers. Updated November 30, 2017. Accessed April 4, 2018.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website. Older drivers. www.nhtsa.gov/road-safety/older-drivers. Accessed April 4, 2018.

National Institute on Aging website. Older drivers. www.nia.nih.gov/health/older-drivers. Updated December 31, 2018. Accessed April 4, 2018.

Review Date 5/12/2018

Updated by: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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