AutoInsurance.com
Published: May 25, 2022Last updated: November 4, 2022

Safe Driving Guide for Older Adults

Although drivers of all ages can get into accidents, driving often gets riskier with age. As people get older, changes in vision, physical strength, mobility, and cognition can make it dangerous to get behind the wheel. As a result, the risk of being killed or injured in an automobile accident increases with age.

However, older drivers can take several steps to ensure they’re in great driving shape. There are also new car technologies that could help some seniors continue to drive long into their golden years.

Why Driving Can Be Dangerous for Older Adults

Since everyone goes through unique changes as they age, guidelines for older drivers are not one-size-fits-all. Additionally, since health can change so gradually, seniors and their loved ones don’t always notice right away when their ability to drive safely has diminished. Some people adjust to changes in their abilities by driving less frequently, or only during the daytime when visibility is good. However, there may come a time when a senior should hang up their car keys for good.

Why Driving Can Be Dangerous for Older Adults

There are various reasons driving can become more dangerous with age.

  • Multiple medications and drug interactions: For people of all ages, some medications have the potential to cause dizziness, lack of coordination, blurred vision, slow reaction time, and other issues. These side effects are even more likely to happen to older adults, especially if they are taking multiple prescription drugs or drinking alcohol during treatment. Unfortunately, research shows that doctors typically do not discuss the effects of medication on driving.1
  • Reduced flexibility and strength: Changes in mobility that occur naturally with age can be dangerous. Older adults may not be able to press their feet down on brakes with enough force or speed to stop a collision, or to rotate their heads enough to check their blind spots.
  • Declines in eyesight, cognition, and hearing: As we age, our vision, cognition, and hearing often become weaker. However, these declines can occur so slowly that seniors and their loved ones may not realize how severe they are.
  • Certain medical conditions: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people age 65 or older are more than twice as likely as younger adults to report having a medical problem that makes it difficult to drive.2

How to Stay Safe Behind the Wheel

Although many people notice significant changes in their physical and mental condition as they age, several risk-reduction strategies for older drivers can keep them behind the wheel for longer. Here are a few ways to improve mobility, visibility, and safety in the car:

  1. Meet with health professionals. Make regular medical appointments to check your vision, hearing, pain issues, and medication dosages. Always wear corrective lenses if they’re prescribed. Certain medications and combinations heighten the risk of unsafe driving, so go over all of your medications regularly with a physician to check for adverse reactions.
  2. Stay active. Take yoga or other exercise classes that promote flexibility, which is essential for safe driving. Think about how many times you turn your head in the car!
  3. Take an educational program or refresher course. A defensive driving course can keep your skills sharp.
  4. Drive defensively. If you struggle to see at night, you should limit your driving hours to the daytime and maintain extra distance behind other cars. Practice braking well in advance of intersections and stoplights.
  5. Get a vehicle with safe driving features. When choosing a vehicle as an older driver, you should keep several unique needs in mind. For one thing, it’s important to make sure the car is easy to get in and out of. Wide door openings and seats close to hip level can make it easier for those with limited mobility to enter and exit cars. In general, crossovers and midsize vehicles work best for seniors. Giant pickup trucks and tiny sports cars tend not to be the best choices.
Car feature Why it’s good for older drivers
Wide door openings and seats about hip level These features make it easier to get in and out of cars, reducing the risk of falls or sprains.
Proximity key systems You can enter the car without fumbling for keys, which could be especially helpful for those with grip or arthritis issues.
Push-button start (typically included with proximity key systems) These systems let you push a button to start a vehicle instead of struggling to grip and turn a key.
Seats with power adjustments that include

power lumbar for firm lower-back support

These controls go beyond standard four-way and six-way power seat adjustment to offer more comfort for everyday driving and long trips. They can help with fatigue, back issues, and aches.
Adjustable steering wheel (height/tilt and telescopic adjustments) Combined with power seat adjustment, an adjustable wheel can reduce driver fatigue and make driving more comfortable. A telescopic steering wheel lets you pull it closer or push it farther away and can decrease the risk of bad injuries from airbag deployment (the closer the steering wheel, the more serious an injury could be).
Heated seats and heated steering wheel Heated seats can ease back pain and stiffness, and offer comfort on chilly days.
Large touchscreens and voice recognition controls Many cars are now equipped with touchscreen controls for audio, phone, and car systems, which can help seniors with vision and dexterity issues.
Higher perch with LED exterior lighting A higher seat improves visibility. Powerful exterior lights can also help you see the lay of the road and potential obstacles.
Backup cameras Drivers of all ages can benefit from backup cameras, which clearly display the area behind the vehicle. Usually, bells sound if there are objects in the car’s way when it’s in reverse.
Blind-spot monitors This new technology is very useful for older drivers, especially those with poor mobility. This feature notifies you when there are cars or obstacles in your blind spots.
Low- or zero-effort steering This nonstandard type of steering is best for older adults with limited mobility or shoulder arthritis.
Hand controls for gas and brake Available for installation in most vehicles, hand controls for gas and brake could be particularly helpful for senior drivers with preexisting disabilities.
Swing-out seats These rotating seats make it easier to get in and out of vehicles.
Pedal extenders These can help smaller drivers reach the gas and brake pedals.

CheckFYI

To see how well your current car fits your needs (or could fit your needs), head to a CarFit event. Call to reserve a spot, and plan for your appointment to take about 30 minutes. You may discover your car has features you didn’t know about that can benefit you going forward. You can get other resources and support related to senior driving at these events too.3

How to Know When to Stop Driving

Seniors, their children, and other family members should have open and respectful conversations early about the possibility of driving changes down the road. Seniors may prefer to initiate the conversations so they have more control and can reassure their kids they are safety-minded. Their adult children can also start these conversations to acknowledge their parents’ independence and the value that driving brings them.

Light BulbTIP

AARP offers an online seminar called We Need to Talk, which helps families assess when it may be time for older adults to stop driving. It also provides tips for having these difficult discussions.4

During conversations about driving, keep the focus on skills, not age. Seniors may be at higher risk of dangerous driving than those several decades younger, but there are plenty of safe senior drivers.

That said, it may be time for a senior to stop driving if any of these red flags appear:

  • They’re increasingly distracted while driving.
  • They don’t stop completely at stop signs.
  • They regularly speed or drive too slowly.
  • They drift into other lanes.
  • They hit curbs often.
  • They have too many “close calls” with other cars.
  • Other drivers honk at them frequently.
  • They get into minor at-fault accidents.
  • They receive traffic tickets.
  • The cost of their car insurance is increasing.
  • They feel anxious about driving or less confident than usual about their driving skills.
  • Friends, neighbors, or relatives make comments on the older adult’s driving.
  • There are new dents on the car that the driver is surprised to see.
  • There are new dents on the garage door and/or mailbox.5

If these red flags occur, older drivers and their families should discuss the issues directly. Before deciding to stop driving altogether, older drivers could find ways to mitigate their issues. Here are some possible solutions to reduce risk:

  • Enroll in driver’s ed or defensive driving courses. Whether online or in person, these courses can teach older students strategies such as leaving more distance between their vehicle and the car in front, mapping out routes in advance, and going to places with plenty of wide parking spaces.
  • Learn how to work around your medical conditions. Review the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s videos and publications about driving with specific medical conditions.6
  • Explore other transportation options. You might be able to find alternative transportation, such as riding the bus to the doctor’s office, taking a taxi to the movies, or hopping in a ride-sharing service to go to the grocery store. This approach can help you remain independent even without your own vehicle.
  • Take advantage of delivery services. You can also explore options that reduce the need to drive, such as grocery delivery. However, remember that isolation and loneliness are common and hurtful byproducts of no longer driving, and keep your social needs in mind for the big picture.
  • Visit your doctor. Go to the doctor for a physical checkup and/or driver fitness assessment. Guidance from a neutral third party on your health conditions that affect your driving could be easier for all parties involved to accept. Your doctor may recommend that you do not drive at night, or that you visit an occupational therapist to increase your mobility.

State Licensing Laws for Senior Drivers

Many states have stricter licensing laws for senior drivers, so make sure you know your state’s rules. Some states require drivers over a certain age to submit proof of adequate vision when renewing their licenses. Other states require older drivers to renew their licenses in person rather than by mail or online, and some states ask them to renew their licenses more frequently than younger adults do.

State Licensing Laws for Senior Drivers

Up-to-date driver’s licenses help keep everyone safe on the road. Familiarize yourself with your state’s laws below.

License Renewal Procedures for Older Adults

State License renewal cycle Proof of adequate vision required at renewal? Mail or online renewal permitted?
Alabama 4 years No Online, every other renewal
Alaska 5 years 69 and older, every renewal No (for 69 and older)
Arizona 5 years for ages 65 and older Every renewal No
Arkansas 4 or 8 years for ages 70 and older (personal option) Every other renewal No
California 5 years 70 and older, every renewal No (for 70 and older)
Colorado 5 years Every renewal Both, if photograph is newer than 16 years
Connectict 2 years permitted for ages 65 and older (personal option) No Both, every other renewal
Delaware 8 years Every renewal No
District of Columbia 8 years Every renewal No (for 70 and older)
Florida 6 years for ages 80 and older 80 and older, every renewal Both, every other renewal
Georgia 8 years Every renewal Both, every other renewal
Hawaii 2 years for ages 72 and older Every renewal By mail, limited to 2 consecutive renewals, but must appear in person at least every 16 years
Idaho 4 years for ages 63 and older Every renewal No (for 70 and older)
Illinois 2 years for ages 81-86; 1 year for ages 87 and older 75 and older, every renewal No (for 75 and older)
Indiana 3 years for ages 75-84; 2 years for ages 85 and older 75 and older, every renewal Both, every other renewal
Iowa 2 years for ages 78 and older 70 and older, every renewal No (for 70 and older)
Kansas 4 years for ages 65 and older Every renewal No (for 65 and older)
Kentucky 4 or 8 years (personal option) Every renewal Both, if photograph is newer than 16 years
Louisiana 6 years 70 and older, every renewal No (for 70 and older)
Maine 4 years for ages 65 and older 62 and older, every renewal No (for 62 and older)
Maryland 8 years 40 and older, every renewal Both, if photograph is newer than 16 years
Massachusetts 5 years 75 and older, every renewal No (for 75 and older)
Michigan 4 years When renewing in person Both, every other renewal
Minnesota 4 years Every renewal No
Mississippi 4 or 8 years (personal option) No Online, every other renewal
Missouri 3 years for ages 70 and older Every renewal No
Montana 4 years for ages 75 and older Every renewal Both, every other renewal
Nebraska 5 years 72 and older, every renewal No (for 72 and older)
Nevada 4 years for ages 65 and older 71 and older, every renewal Both, every other renewal for 65 and older
New Hampshire 5 years Every renewal Online, every other renewal
New Jersey 2 or 4 years for ages 70 and older (personal option) Every 10 years Both
New Mexico 4 years for ages 71-78; 1 year for ages 79 and older 75 and older, every renewal No (for 75 and older)
New York 8 years Every renewal Both
North Carolina 5 years for ages 66 and older Every renewal Online, every other renewal
North Dakota 4 years for ages 78 and older Every renewal No (for 70 and older)
Ohio 4 years for ages 65 and older 65 and older, every renewal (effective July 1, 2022) No (for 65 and older)
Oklahoma 4 or 8 years (personal option) No Both, every other renewal
Oregon 8 years 50 and older if renewing in person Online, every other renewal
Pennsylvania 2 or 4 years for ages 65 and older (personal option) No Both
Rhode Island 2 years for ages 75 and older Every renewal Online, every other renewal
South Carolina 8 years Every renewal Both
South Dakota 5 years 65 and older, every renewal Both, every other renewal
Tennessee 8 years No Both
Texas 2 years for ages 85 and older 79 and older, every renewal No (for 79 and older)
Utah 8 years 65 and older, every renewal Online, every other renewal
Vermont 2 or 4 years No By mail, unless new photo required
Virginia 5 years for ages 75 and older 75 and older, every renewal No (for 75 and older)
Washington 6 or 8 years (personal option) Every renewal No (for 70 and older)
West Virginia 8 years Every renewal Online, every other renewal
Wisconsin 8 years Every renewal No
Wyoming 5 years Every renewal By mail, every other renewal7

Staying Safe on the Road at Any Age

Safe senior driving is a multilayered issue that incorporates driving ability, planning, potentially difficult conversations, car tech, and vehicle adaptations. Today, older drivers have more car options and driving resources than ever before to keep them driving for many years. While senior drivers have unique needs and situations to consider, it’s up to drivers of all ages to help everyone stay safe on the road. Make sure to wear seat belts and avoid texting and driving, no matter what age you are.

Citations

  1. Older drivers taking multiple medications could be at higher risk of accidents. Reuters. (2018, November 28).
    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-elderly-driving/older-drivers-taking-multiple-medications-could-be-at-higher-risk-of-accidents-idUSKCN1NX2SL.

  2. Injury Prevention & Control. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, November 30).
    https://www.cdc.gov/injury/features/older-driver-safety/index.html.

  3. CarFit Events. CarFit. (2022).
    https://www.car-fit.org/carfit/RegisterCarFit.

  4. We Need to Talk. AARP. (2022).
    https://www.aarp.org/auto/driver-safety/we-need-to-talk/.

  5. Older Drivers. National Institute on Aging. (2018, December 12).
    https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/older-drivers.

  6. Older Drivers. NHTSA. (2022).
    https://www.nhtsa.gov/road-safety/older-drivers.

  7. License renewal procedures by state. IIHS. (2022, May).
    https://www.iihs.org/topics/older-drivers/license-renewal-laws-table.