Help the older adult in your life maintain their safety as well as their independence.
One of the hardest aspects of approaching old age is the loss of independence. With the onset of various medical issues, both physical and cognitive, some older adults lose everyday capabilities they once had. Driving is a prime example. Diseases like arthritis and dementia make driving difficult and unsafe, so it’s up to family, friends, and healthcare providers to make sure people with those conditions aren’t behind the wheel. But how can you approach such a delicate topic effectively?
Once you’ve determined a senior driver in your life is no longer safe to drive, take these steps for the big talk.
Choose someone to lead the conversation who has the older adult’s best interests and safety at heart, knows their physical capabilities, and has seen them drive regularly. For 50 percent of older, married adults, that person is their spouse. For 14 percent, it’s an adult child, and for 27 percent, it’s a physician. Unmarried adults prefer to have this talk with their doctors (41 percent) and their adult children (31 percent), according to a study from The Hartford (which underwrites AARP car insurance) and MIT.1
It’s best to have a one-on-one conversation rather than confront the older adult with their entire family. Choose a time of day when the person will be the most relaxed and have the conversation in stages over a period of time. For example, you can start the conversation long before any issues (like hitting a curb) come up by asking a question like, “How will you know when it’s time to stop driving?”
Ask the older adult questions such as the following:
Once they respond, you can show them how an ailment like vision impairment can worsen their driving abilities.
Your goal is to ensure the older adult’s safety without taking away their sense of independence. To prevent them from feeling attacked, don’t make demands or tell them they are a dangerous driver. Rather, focus on their medical conditions or your own experiences with their driving skills instead of their age.
Use “I” instead of “you” statements. For example, it’s better to say, “I am worried about your driving” versus “You are not a safe driver.”
There are many ways for older adults to travel that don’t involve them getting behind the wheel:
The older adult may want to test their driving abilities for themselves. There’s no single test that will determine whether someone is a safe driver, so we suggest using a combination of the following tests.
|State||Proof of adequate vision required at renewal?||License renewal cycle in years|
|Alabama||No||All ages: 4|
|Alaska||69 and older: every renewal||All ages: 5|
|Arizona||Every renewal||65 and older: 5|
|Arkansas||Every other renewal||70 and older: 4 or 8|
|California||70 and older: every renewal||All ages: 5|
|Colorado||Every renewal||All ages: 5|
|Connecticut||No||65 and older: 2|
|Delaware||Every renewal||All ages: 8|
|District of Columbia||Every renewal||All ages: 8|
|Florida||80 and older: every renewal||80 and older: 6|
|Georgia||Every renewal||All ages: 8|
|Hawaii||Every renewal||72 and older: 2|
|Idaho||Every renewal||63 and older: 4|
|Illinois||75 and older: every renewal||81-86: 2
87 and older: 1
|Indiana||75 and older: every renewal||75-84: 3
85 and older: 2
|Iowa||70 and older: every renewal||78 and older: 2|
|Kansas||Every renewal||65 and older: 4|
|Kentucky||Every renewal||All ages: 4 or 8|
|Louisiana||70 and older: every renewal||All ages: 6|
|Maine||62 and older: every renewal||65 and older: 4|
|Maryland||40 and older: every renewal||All ages: 8|
|Massachusetts||75 and older: every renewal||All ages: 5|
|Michigan||When renewing in person||All ages: 4|
|Minnesota||Every renewal||All ages: 4|
|Mississippi||No||All ages: 4 or 8|
|Missouri||Every renewal||70 and older: 3|
|Montana||Every renewal||75 and older: 4|
|Nebraska||72 and older: every renewal||All ages: 4|
|Nevada||71 and older: every renewal||65 and older: 4|
|New Hampshire||Every renewal||All ages: 5|
|New Jersey||Every 10 years||70 and older: 2 or 4|
|New Mexico||75 and older: every renewal||71-78: 4
79 and older: 1
|New York||Every renewal||All ages: 8|
|North Carolina||Every renewal||66 and older: 5|
|North Dakota||Every renewal||78 and older: 4|
|Ohio||65 and older: every renewal||65 and older: 4|
|Oklahoma||No||All ages: 4 or 8|
|Oregon||50 and older if renewing in person||All ages: 8|
|Pennsylvania||No||65 and older,: 2 or 4|
|Rhode Island||Every renewal||75 and older: 2|
|South Carolina||Every renewal||All ages: 8|
|South Dakota||65 and older: every renewal||All ages: 5|
|Tennessee||No||All ages: 8|
|Texas||79 and older: every renewal||85 and older: 2|
|Utah||65 and older: every renewal||All ages: 8|
|Vermont||No||All ages: 2 or 4|
|Virginia||75 and older: every renewal||75 and older: 5|
|Washington||Every renewal||6 or 8 years, personal choice|
|West Virginia||Every renewal||All ages: 8|
|Wisconsin||Every renewal||All ages: 8|
|Wyoming||Every renewal||All ages: 5|
If you’ve done all of the above and the older adult refuses to stop driving, you have two options:
Unsure whether or not the older adult in your life should keep driving? Look for these red flags.
Many medical conditions make driving safely difficult, if not impossible.
Stiff muscles and joints can make it harder for drivers to hit the brakes and gas pedals, turn the steering wheel, and turn their heads to check blind spots.
Someone at risk of a heart attack could die suddenly at the wheel, injuring or killing others if they lose control of the vehicle.
With later-stage dementia, older adults may have trouble making decisions while driving, as their memory is significantly affected.
An older adult with hearing issues may be unable to hear horns or sirens coming from outside the car or noises from mechanical issues inside the vehicle.
Uncontrollable movements and loss of balance and coordination make driving unsafe for those with Parkinson’s disease.
Someone with glaucoma, macular degeneration, or cataracts may find it hard to see things outside of their direct sight lines. They’ll take longer to read traffic and street signs, and they’ll have trouble recognizing familiar places. Nighttime driving will become more challenging, but even during the day, headlights and street lights will create glare, and the sun may blind them.
Someone with sleep apnea may be very sleepy during the day, resulting in drowsy driving that increases the risk of motor vehicle crashes.7
Strokes cause people to lose control of their limbs and movements, affecting their control of the car.
Some medications cause drowsiness. All drivers should ask their doctor or pharmacist if they can drive safely before taking a drug.
Seniors, including aging parents, typically like to keep driving to maintain their independence, get around conveniently, and not have to pay for public transportation or rideshares. If it’s deemed safe for them to still be behind the wheel, check out our driving guide for older adults before you hand over the car keys.
Using the NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) database, where the most recent data is from 2020, we looked into how well older adults over the age of 65 drive compared to the rest of the population.
2022 data from the Federal Highway Administration shows that drivers 65 and older make up 14 percent of all licensed drivers in the U.S.8
One harmful stereotype about seniors is they’re bad at driving, when the truth is their driving varies on an individual basis. As a population, senior drivers are actually underrepresented in car crashes, as of 2020 data. That year, senior drivers made up 22 percent of all licensed drivers but only 18 percent of fatal crashes and 17 percent of injury-only and property damage-only crashes each.
|Frequency of car accidents, 2020||Fatal crash||Injury-only crash||Property damage-only crash|
|Number of car accidents involving a driver 65 and older||6,494||271,209||604,170|
|Total number of car accidents||35,766||1,593,390||3,621,681|
|Percent of car accidents involving a driver 65 and older||18%||17%||17%|
On top of that, senior drivers are getting safer, with senior driving deaths on the decline for decades, according to data from the National Safety Council.9 Traffic fatality rates for those 65 and older decreased by 10 percent from 2019 to 2020 alone, although part of that could be the result of national stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
|Year||Total traffic fatality rate per 100,000 U.S. adults 65 and older|
Many seniors self-regulate by deciding not to drive at night. However, 82 percent of crashes involving seniors occur during the day (keep in mind that most driving occurs during the day).
|Time of day for crashes involving a driver 65 and older, 2020||Fatal crash||Injury-only crash||Property damage-only crash|
That said, 28 percent of fatal crashes involving older drivers occurred at night, compared to only 20 percent of injury-only crashes and 17 percent of property damage-only crashes.
Teen drivers speeding is a huge issue, but that isn’t the case for many seniors in accidents. Only 4 percent of all older adult crashes involved speeding. That number went up to 18 percent for fatal crashes, however.
|Crashes that involved a driver 65 and older, 2020||Fatal||Injury-only||Property damage-only|
|Did not involve speeding||5,319||247,873||569,269|
Distracted driving includes talking on the phone, texting, and even eating — any activity that gets your mind (and hands) off the wheel. In 2020, 9 percent of fatal crashes with a driver aged 65 and older involved distracted driving.
|Involved a distracted driver aged 65 and older, 2020||Fatal crash|
Data on distracted driving is not available for injury- or property damage-only crashes.
In 2020, only 2 percent of fatal motor vehicle crashes involving older adults also included a drowsy driver.
|Involved a drowsy driver aged 65 and older, 2020||Fatal crash|
Bad weather isn’t the cause of most crashes among seniors in the U.S. Across the board, nearly three-quarters of crashes occurred during normal weather.
|Weather condition for crashes with U.S. adults ages 65 and above, 2020||Fatal crash||Injury-only crash||Property damage-only crash|
|No adverse atmospheric conditions/clear/cloudy||7,149||278,856||561,602|
|Fog, smog, smoke||76||1,414||2,303|
|Freezing rain, drizzle||7||176||216|
|Sleet, hail (freezing rain or drizzle)||12||0||0|
|Blowing sand, soil, dirt||2||0||0|
Although some senior drivers should certainly stop driving, as a population, they are less likely to get into a crash than other age groups.
Asking a senior to stop driving isn’t easy. You want to keep them safe, but also help them maintain their independence. The guidance provided above can be useful. To learn more, check out our frequently asked questions below.
Most seniors give up driving by age 85. According to U.S. Census estimates and 2022 data from the Federal Highway Administration, only 34 percent of U.S. adults ages 85 and older are licensed drivers.
Do not tell an elderly parent they are a dangerous or unsafe driver, as this can make them feel attacked.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, these are the most common mental disorders in elderly people:
All of these can affect one’s driving abilities.
You do not have to do a driving test at age 80 if you’re already a licensed driver. In fact, you are not required to pass a driving test to renew your license in any state regardless of your age. However, if someone reports you as an unsafe driver to the DMV, the agency may require you to retake your driver’s test to maintain your license.
Overview of Dementia. The Hartford. (2023).
How to Talk to Seniors About Driving and Their Safety. Direct Auto Insurance. (2018, Feb 5).
License renewal procedures by state. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute. (2023).
How to Talk to Your Aging Parents About Driving. Farm Bureau Financial Services. (2022, Oct 14).
We Need to Talk: The Difficult Driving Conversation. AARP. (2023).
Safe Driving for Older Adults. National Institute on Aging. (2023).
Medical Conditions and Driving: A Review of the Literature (1960 – 2000). U.S. Department of Transportation. (2005, Sep).
Licensed Drivers by Age and Sex (In Thousands). U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. (2022, May 31).
Road Users: Older Drivers. National Safety Council. (2023).