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When Should Seniors Stop Driving? 7 Warning Signs

Find out what makes driving riskier for seniors and get 7 warning signs that an older adult needs to stop driving

Worried about senior driving safety?

It’s common for adult children to worry about an aging parent’s driving skills, but it can be tough to start that conversation

It’s a sensitive topic, especially for older adults who fear losing their independence or being seen as incapable. 

Before making any assumptions, keep in mind that many older adults can still be safe drivers well into their 80s and 90s.

But it’s also common for seniors to have impaired vision, hearing problems, slower reaction time, and health conditions that can make driving difficult or downright dangerous.

With an activity as risky as driving, it’s best to be proactive and regularly assess your parent’s driving ability.

It can be tough to admit that they’re declining, but it would be a terrible tragedy if they got into an accident and seriously hurt themselves or someone else.

We explain when to talk with seniors about their driving, what factors make driving more risky for seniors, and share 7 warning signs that seniors should stop driving.


How to know when seniors should stop driving

If you ask outright, your aging parent probably won’t want to talk about their driving ability. 

You’re more likely to hear that they’re just as skilled as they were when they taught YOU to drive!

A better approach is to look for warning signs before having a discussion.

That helps you to know if you need to insist on talking about it because there are real reasons to be worried or if the conversation can be delayed because their driving skills are still going strong.

What makes driving more risky for seniors?

To assess your older adult’s driving ability, it helps understand normal changes in the body that can make driving more risky for seniors. 

Being aware of these changes helps you identify potential problems with their driving.

And even though there’s no average age to stop driving, these normal age-related changes in the body can increase the risk of having a car accident.

Physical changes

  1. Decreased vision, impaired hearing, and slower reflexes make it harder to see, hear, and respond to other cars or pedestrians.

  2. Pain or stiffness in the neck or back make it difficult to turn and see clearly when changing lanes or checking for pedestrians.

  3. Leg pain, leg weakness, or reduced mobility makes it harder to switch between gas and brake pedals and press hard enough.

  4. General loss of strength can make fast, accurate steering more difficult.

Cognitive changes

  1. Slower reaction time means taking more time to notice merging cars or responding when the car ahead slows or stops.

  2. Multi-tasking ability decreases so it’s more difficult to drive safely and keep track of road signs, signals, other cars, pedestrians, and other “normal” distractions.


7 warning signs that seniors should stop driving

1. Their car has fresh dents and scrapes

A good place to start is by examining their car.

Are there recent dents and scrapes? Do you see any damage on their mailbox, fence, driveway area, or garage door?

If you can, try to find out if their auto insurance rates have changed or if they’ve gotten any traffic tickets or warnings.

2. Their driving habits have changed

Significant changes in driving habits are definite red flags.

For example, are they rolling through stop signs when they used to always come to a full stop?

Do they now change lanes without even glancing at their blind spot? Has a lifetime seatbelt wearer stopped buckling up?

3. They’re straining to see

Being able to see well is essential to safe driving.

If your older adult has a vision problem like cataracts, macular degeneration, or glaucoma, they definitely won’t be safe behind the wheel no matter what they say.

Other issues could also interfere with their ability to see.

Can they see over the steering wheel? Losing height to osteoporosis or a curved spine can make this a challenge.

And if they’re stiff or in pain, they might have a hard time turning to check their blind spot or rear view for lane changes or backing up.

4. Driving has become stressful, confusing, or exhausting

If your older adult is working hard to compensate for any physical challenges, driving can become stressful and tiring.

They might also show signs of confusion, anger, or be easily distracted.

Signs that cause concern include:

  1. Getting lost more easily, even in familiar areas.

  2. Struggling to back up or turn the car around.

  3. Having trouble seeing or keeping track of traffic signals, road signs, or pavement markings.

  4. Mixing up the gas and brake pedals or pressing them both at the same time.

  5. Not being able to tolerate any distractions.

  6. Responding slowly to unexpected situations.

  7. Having road rage or causing other drivers to honk.

5. They’re having close calls

If your older adult has had several narrowly missed accidents, that’s a sign that their driving skills are deteriorating.

This could be happening because they’re misjudging gaps in traffic, misreading traffic signals or road signs, or underestimating the speed of oncoming cars.

6. Driving at night makes them nervous

If your older adult has become reluctant to drive at night, it’s a sign to pay closer attention to their overall driving skills.

7. Other people are getting scared

If your older adult’s friends or other relatives aren’t comfortable riding in their car anymore or say something to you about their driving, pay attention to those concerns.

It’s not a good sign when people are too scared to ride in the car!

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By DailyCaring Editorial Team

A version of this article was originally published on Sixty and Me


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