Senior Citizen Couple Driving Their Car

SENIOR DRIVING

IN THE COMMUNITY

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 70 and older population is expected to reach 53 million by 2030. Although mature drivers are more experienced, physical and cognitive decline as well as certain medications can put drivers more at risk for crashes.

Evaluating driving ability early and understanding mind and body changes can provide older drivers with the tools necessary to drive safer for longer. Visit AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety to learn more.

Evaluate Your Driving Ability

Self-Rating Tool

click to expand

Every time you get behind the wheel of a car, you must decide how to react to other vehicles and drivers, traffic signs and signals, highway conditions and your vehicle’s performance – and often take quick action. Would you like to know your driving performance?

 

Drivers 65 Plus is a brochure that features a 15-question self-rating driving assessment exercise designed to help you examine your driving performance. After answering the questions, follow the instructions to calculate your score and get information about your driving performance.


Professional Assessment

click to expand

In order to continue being a safe driver through the years, it is important to have your driving assessed regularly with a professional driving assessment.

There are two categories of driving assessments:

  1. Clinical Driving Assessments
    • Identify underlying medical causes of any driving performance deficits and offer ways to address them so driving remains a safe option.
  2. Driving Skills Evaluations
    • Includes in-car driving evaluation and recommendations for any further specialized drivers’ training.

Clinical Driving Assessments

click to expand

Occupational Therapist Driver Rehabilitation Specialists (OT-DRSs) plan, develop, coordinate, and implement driving services for people with disabilities or have one or more medical conditions that affect driving.

Clinical driving assessments are best if you have a broad spectrum of physical and cognitive disabilities including dementia, stroke, arthritis, low vision, learning disabilities, limb amputations, neuromuscular disorders, spinal cord injuries, mental health problems, cardiovascular diseases and other causes of functional deficits.

Components of a clinical driving assessment:

  • Clinical driving assessment (Can include review of personal medical history and a cognitive assessment).
  • Functional/on-road assessment (Can include adherence to traffic rules and regulation, consistent use of strategies to compensate for visual, cognitive, physical, and behavioral impairments).
  • Treatment and intervention (Can include adaptive driving instruction or specialized drivers' training with or without vehicle modifications).

Click here to access The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) nationwide database of driving programs and specialists.

Source: AOTA and the Physician’s Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers


Driving Skills Evaluations

click to expand

Driving skills evaluators (DSEs) conduct evaluations to help you identify any weaknesses in driving skills and determine if supplemental training can further reduce driving risk.

Evaluations are best if you are concerned your driving skills may have diminished; were recommended to take a driving skills evaluation by a physician, occupational therapist or family member; or may benefit from supplemental in-car training.

Components of a driving skills evaluation

  • Comprehensive in-car evaluation of an individual’s driving skills at a particular point in time (Can include ability to follow traffic laws, assess driving environment, and take effective actions to reduce risk).
  • Review of evaluation, which would provide recommendations for:
    • Supplemental in-car training
    • A clinical driving assessment by an OT-DRS
    • No supplemental training

Driving skills evaluation does not identify underlying medically related causes of any reduced driving abilities. It’s intended to be a snapshot of your abilities at a particular point in time. No training is conducted during a driving skills evaluation. Additional training is available from DSEs if desired.

To get a driving skills evaluation, click here for more information regarding availability in your state.

Plan for Driving Retirement

click to expand

  • Many older drivers will eventually age out of driving due to medical issues or age-related declines in health and fitness.
  • Taking the time to plan for this stage of life will ensure the opportunity to stay mobile and to continue participating in the same daily activities after your driving career.
  • Start planning for driving retirement while still actively driving for an easier transition down the road.
  • Practice using ride share options or public transportation so you are comfortable with various modes of transportation when they are needed.

Understanding Mind & Body Changes

Vision changes due to aging may be so gradual that they become unnoticed over time.

  • Presbyopia- normal loss of near focus over time
  • Macular degeneration- gradually creates blurry vision over time
  • Reduced pupil size
    • Individuals in their 60s require 3x more ambient light for comfortable reading than those in their 20s
  • Loss of peripheral vision
    • Decreases approximately 1-3 degrees per decade of life (70s and 80s will lose 20-30 degrees)

Click here to Join AAA and LensCrafters to learn how vision health is critical to safe driving.

Reaction Time

click to expand

As you age, reflexes can slow and you may not be able to react to situations as quickly as you could in the past. Stiff joints and/or weak muscles can also decrease reaction time when driving.

Here are some tips to stay safe on the road:

  1. Leave more space between you and the car in front of you.
  2. Start braking early when you need to stop.
  3. Avoid driving during rush hour and heavy traffic areas when possible.
  4. If you must drive on the highway, stick to the right-hand lane where traffic generally moves more slowly.

Medical Conditions & Medications

click to expand

Medical conditions that can effect older drivers are dementia, arthritis, diabetes, stroke, sleep apnea, and Parkinson’s Disease. It is important to note that none of these conditions alone are sufficient enough to require the withdrawal of driving unless they pose a risk to the driver or others.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has developed indicators to help doctors determine if a professional driving evaluation is needed: (Source: NHTSA)

  • 80 or older
  • Recent crash or moving violation
  • Psychoactive medications or uses medications for Alzheimer’s Disease
  • History of falls
  • Screening tool scores that indicate the possibility of a cognitive deficit

When driving, it is important to know that most states do not differentiate between alcohol and drugs when it comes to DWI/DUI. Although your doctor may prescribe certain medications or you choose to take an over the counter medication, you can still be arrested for DWI/DUI just as someone impaired by alcohol​.

With all medications always remember to:

  • Read the fine print. ​
  • Inform your doctor​.
  • Discuss your medication​s.
  • If you feel different, don’t drive.​

Mind & Cognition

click to expand

As we age, our brain needs more time to process information, making it more difficult to ignore distractions​. Years of driving experience and good driving habits can help older drivers compensate for some diminished cognitive abilities.​

Warning signs of dementia:​

  • Forgetting how to locate familiar places​
  • Failing to observe traffic signs and signals​
  • Becoming angry or confused while driving​
  • Hitting curbs while driving​
  • Confusing brake and gas pedals​
  • Forgetting the destination​

Improve Your Skills

Preparation

click to expand

  1. Conduct a pre-drive vehicle inspection.
    • Be aware of obstacles or children near your vehicle.
    • Inspect vehicle lights and check for any fluid leaks.
  2. Ensure all adjustments inside the vehicle are completed prior to driving.
    • Ex. Mirrors, seat belt, distance to pedals, visibility over the steering wheel
  3. Buckle up every ride!
    • For a safe fit, ensure your seat belt lies across your collar bone and hip bones

Common Driving Challenges

click to expand

  1. Left Turns
  2. Roundabouts
  3. Sharing the road with large trucks
  4. Driving at night
  5. Backing up
  6. Aggressive drivers and road rage

Bad Weather

click to expand

  1. Rain
    • Headlights on and reduce speed
    • Allow extra travel time
    • Check tires, wipers, and lights
    • When possible, drive in the middle lane and increase your following distance
  2. Snow, Ice, Sleet
    • Clear ALL snow and ice from your vehicle prior to driving
    • Headlights on and reduce speed
    • Brake gently to avoid skidding and increase your following distance
  3. Fog
    • Slow down
    • Manually turn on headlights and use low-beam setting
    • Use windshield wipers and defrosters
    • Use the right edge of the road as a guide
    • Increase your following distance

Special Situations

click to expand

  1. Vehicle failures
    • Pull safely off to the side of the road and call for help.
    • Call AAA for assistance if needed.
  2. Emergency maneuvers
    • Place your hands at the 9:00 and 3:00 positions on the steering wheel to allow for greater control and reaction time.
  3. Crash
    • Stay calm.
    • Make sure there are no injuries. If so, immediately call 911.
    • If safe, move vehicle away from the road.
    • Collect contact and insurance information from all people involved and take photos of scene.
    • Report crash to your insurance company regardless of who is at fault.

Maintain Mobility & Independence

Keeping Your Mind & Body Fit

click to expand

There are many simple and preventative steps you can take to extend your personal mobility:

  1. Mental Health
    • On average, the human brain begins to slow down beginning at age 30. It is important to continue to exercise our brains to keep them sharp.
    • There are a variety of mental fitness activities to help keep your brain cognitively healthy such as jigsaw puzzles, crosswords, and Sudoku.
  2. Physical Fitness
    • It is important to keep moving at every age!
    • Exercise programs should:
      • Challenge your heart and lungs
      • Stretch and strengthen your muscles
      • Loosen joints to help with flexibility
    • Brisk walking, gardening, and routine housework are all great option

Helping Mature Drivers Find Their Perfect Fit

Developed by the American Society on Aging in collaboration with AAA, AARP and the American Therapy Association, CarFit is an educational program that uses a 12-point checklist to help older drivers determine how well their vehicles “fit” them. Steering wheel height, seats, mirrors, head restraints, and many other elements of the vehicle must be adjusted to accommodate the physical changes associated with aging, and can improve safety and comfort while driving a vehicle.

Each CarFit evaluation takes about 20 minutes and educates the driver on the correct “fit” based on the following components:

  • Seat belt adjustment
  • Steering wheel tilt
  • Head restraint position
  • Distance from air bag
  • Line of sight over steering wheel
  • Distance to gas and brake pedals
  • Mirror adjustment
  • Operation of basic vehicle controls

Car Buying, Maintenance & Assistive Accessories

click to expand

Fitting comfortably in your vehicle plays a big role in staying safe on the roads.

  • When purchasing a vehicle, make sure it’s not too big and items such as the seat and seat belt can adjust to fit your height.
  • Routine maintenance on your vehicle is important to help keep you safe on the roads. Visit a AAA Car Care Center or AAA Approved Repair Shop to ensure your vehicle is running properly.
  • There are many assistive accessories on the market to help you while driving.
    • Handybar-removable grab bar to hang on to when entering or exiting the vehicle
    • Swivel Cushion-thin cushion placed on seat and swivels 360 degrees to help drivers rotate in and out of the vehicle
    • Blind spot mirrors-added to side vehicle mirrors to reduce blind spots
    • To learn more visit AAA, AARP and AOTA

Other Ways to Get Around

click to expand

Whether you’ve stopped driving or would like to drive less, there are many alternative options for getting around.

  1. Ridesharing Services: Options such as Lyft and Uber offer on-demand transportation which can be helpful for getting to doctor’s appointments, the grocery store, or to visit a friend.
  2. Public Transportation: The bus or subway are a great option for getting around. Practicing routes with a family member or friend before you need to use them may be helpful.
  3. Paratransit Services or Local Shuttles: Check to see what options are available in your local community.
  4. Friends and Family: Coordinating rides to the same place with a friend or family member is a low cost and safe option for staying mobile.

Resources for Drivers, Family & Friends

Conversations About Driving

click to expand

Initiating a conversation about safe driving with an older driver, especially a parent, is challenging for most people. It is not a simple subject to address but there are steps you can take to preserve an older driver’s personal freedom and mobility while ensuring safety on the road.

  1. Communicate openly and respectfully.
  2. Avoid an intervention.
  3. Make privacy a priority.
  4. Never make assumptions.

To learn more about conversations about driving click here.

Know When to be Concerned

click to expand

If you are worried about a loved one and their capacity to safely continue driving, here are some signs to look for:

  1. Driver is involved in multiple crashes, "near misses," and have new dents in their vehicle
  2. Two or more traffic tickets or warnings in the last two years
  3. Comments from neighbors or friends about their driving
  4. Anxiety about driving at night
  5. Health issues involving vision, hearing, and mobility
  6. Complaints about speed, sudden lane changes, and actions of other drivers
  7. Getting confused or lost while driving on a regular basis
  8. Doctor recommendation to modify driving habits or stop driving entirely