Driving allows you to stay mobile and connected to your community. Getting older does not make you a bad driver. However, it is important to know that the changes that occur as you age can affect your driving skills over time.
As you age, your body naturally starts to change. Your reaction time gets slower, your muscle strength may weaken, your joints become stiff, and your vision and hearing often deteriorate.
All of these factors can affect your driving safety, so it’s important to be aware and make positive steps to improve your safety, and the safety of others. It is important to be familiar with the side effects of your medications and take them as directed.
Safety Concerns as you age
It becomes more difficult to:
- Recover from glare when driving at night;
- Read road signs;
- See pedestrians crossing the road;
- See things in your side vision; and,
- Adjust your vision when going from light to dark or vice versa.
Medical conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma and diabetes can also affect your vision. It is important to have your eyes checked every 1-2 years by an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
Changes to the way you move your body can also impact your driving. You may experience a reduction in your:
- Muscle strength;
- Flexibility and mobility;
- Range of motion; and,
Arthritis can also affect the way we drive. For example, it may be harder to operate the gears and clutch, which would result in a slower reaction time.
Your ability to receive, process and react to information tends to slow down as you age. It is important to plan trips with this in mind, as driving under pressure can become stressful and give you less time to react to changes while driving on the road.
Consider if you are comfortable with the following when you are planning a trip:
- Driving at peak hour;
- Changing lanes in traffic;
- Merging onto a busy freeway;
- Dealing with a busy intersection or roundabout; and,
- Travelling an unfamiliar route.
Many non-prescription and prescription medications have the potential to affect driving ability, either by themselves or in combination with other drugs. Talk to your doctor and pharmacist about this.
Conditions and diseases that can affect driving
Some drivers are required to carry a medical certificate when driving. If you have any concerns about this, talk to your to your doctor.
Common conditions known to affect your fitness to drive include:
- Heart attacks
- Strokes and other traumatic brain injuries
- Hearing impairments
- Mental Illness
- Sleep disorders
- Substance misuse
- Vision and eye disorders
All States and Territories in Australia have laws about reporting health conditions that might affect your ability to drive safely. Your doctor is able to advise you on whether or not you should be reporting a condition to the Driver Licencing Authority. For more information, please refer to the relevant state authority.
Occupational Therapy Driving Assessment
Your doctor may ask you to be assessed by an Occupational Therapist (OT) for driver safety. This will involve an assessment of your skills and abilities in relation to your overall driver safety, whilst in a dual control vehicle with a driving instructor.
It is best to talk with your Treating Practitioner about what you need, to continue to be a safe driver or continue to access the community. There are a number of strategies that can support you to drive safely and some examples are listed below:
- Car modifications e.g. installing special side mirrors to decrease required neck movement
- Change of vehicle i.e. change from manual to automatic to increase ease of driving
- Self-restrict driving – only drive in the day if you feel unsafe driving at night
- Public transport
- Mobility scooters for local use
- Taxi Subsidy Scheme - The Taxi Subsidy Scheme provides an affordable (half the total taxi fare up to $25) and accessible transport option for people with a disability who experience profound difficulties using other modes of public passenger transport.
- More information: http://translink.com.au/tickets-and-fares/concessions/taxi-subsidy-scheme
- Community transport options - COMLINK Mobility provides appropriate, accessible, reliable, cohesive and centralised transport options to transport-disadvantaged and transport-isolated people throughout Queensland.
- More information: http://www.comlink.org.au
Knowing when to stop
A driver’s age is not a good indicator of driving ability. The driver’s performance, and their physical and mental health is what matters.
Listed below are some signs that a driver may need to review their ability to drive:
- Having a series of minor accidents or near misses
- Having trouble concentrating
- Feeling exhausted after driving for an hour or less
- Having difficulty turning their neck, head, shoulder or body while driving or parking
- Being unable to read road signs
- Getting lost on familiar roads
- Having other drivers honk at them frequently
- Family, friends and/or police are concerned about their driving.
Resources and Help
- Qld Department of Transport and Main Roads – 13 23 80
- Roads and Maritime NSW - 13 22 13
- Driving Safely While Aging Gracefully NHTSA
- Older Driver Vehicle Safety
- Vehicle Purchase and modification
- Older Drivers’ Self-Assessment Questionnaire
- Safe Driving for Older Adults
- CarFit (NRMA) – 13 11 22