Aging and Driving Safely

By Richard Asa and Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
November 21, 2023
Aging and Driving Safely

Plenty of seniors can drive well, but you should be realistic and listen to your family’s concerns, and don’t ignore danger signs. Here's what you should know.

In Santa Monica, Calif., an 86-year-old man drove his car though a farmer’s market at high-speed, killing nine adults and a two-year-old. He thought he was pressing the brake rather than the accelerator.

That tragic example demonstrates the dangers declining cognitive and motor skills can create. That said, many seniors are safe and careful drivers. And there are more older drivers on the road than ever before, as the U.S. population ages.


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About 20 percent of U.S. drivers are age 65 and up, but they account for only 13 percent of drivers involved in fatal traffic crashes, according to government statistics. One reason is that many choose to drive infrequently or only locally.

They are also less likely to drink and drive. Only 10 percent of senior drivers involved in a fatal car crash are under the influence of alcohol, compared to 22 percent of drivers ages 21 to 64.

Most deaths of older drivers in car crashes happen during a weekday and involve more than one car. The most common causes of senior accidents include:

  • Failing to yield the right-of-way at an intersection
  • Not looking around well enough at their surroundings
  • Misjudging another driver’s speed or the gap between their vehicle and another car

Fatal accidents per miles driven increase when drivers enter their 80s, although those numbers have improved in recent years. Male drivers are three times as likely as women to be involved in a fatal crash.

Because vision, hearing, and alertness often decline with age, more than half of U.S. states have special rules for licensing seniors to drive, requiring vision tests, road tests, or more frequent and in-person renewals. You can check your state’s rules here.

You should consider medical issues if you’re still driving.

  • Beyond hearing and vision checks, do you (or a loved one) take medicine that could make you drowsy and affect your driving?
  • Are you sleeping poorly and often closing your eyes during the day?
  • Having difficulty climbing a flight of stairs or walking more than one block, or falling, could reflect reduced motor skills.

Giving up your car keys can feel like you’re giving up your independence. But an accident that injures you is likely to reduce your independence more dramatically, while risking the lives of others.

One approach is to cut back, driving only during daylight and good weather. You can also focus on easy routes with well-lit streets, intersections with left turn arrows, and easy parking.

Consider planning your route before you drive (rather than relying on GPS instructions), leaving a large following distance behind the car in front of you, and avoiding distractions in your car (such as a loud radio, talking on a phone, texting, and eating).

Know your other options in advance, including rideshares, car services, and public transportation.

Consider stopping driving if you experience:

  • A close call when you almost crash
  • Dents and scrapes on your car or on mailboxes, garbage doors, and curbs
  • Getting lost, especially in familiar areas
  • Trouble seeing or following traffic and road signs
  • Responding slower to unexpected situations
  • Having trouble moving your foot from the gas to the brake pedal
  • Misjudging gaps in traffic at intersections and on highway entrance and exit ramps
  • Feeling road rage or causing other drivers to honk at you
  • Becoming easily distracted
  • Having a hard time backing up or changing lanes
  • Receiving multiple traffic or warning citations from the police

Talk to your doctor and your children, spouse, and friends. If your loved ones have been urging you to stop driving, here’s a simple suggestion: Let them be right.


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November 21, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN