Driving Safety for Older Adults
Lifestyle & Management
There are a number of lifestyle adjustments that can promote safer driving for you or an older adult you know.
Safety Tips for Older Adults
Drivers of all ages should pay attention to these following suggestions, but they are particularly important for older adults.
- Seat belts save lives. Buckle up before starting the car—every single time. If your seatbelt is uncomfortable, adjust the shoulder mount or buy a shoulder pad that slips over the belt.
- Mute your cell phone. Talking or texting while driving can distract you from the road ahead. Leave your cell phone on silent and do not answer it while you’re driving.
- Do not eat while driving. Eating is another activity that can distract you while driving. If you must eat or drink, pull into a safe area such as a parking lot and finish all refreshments before getting back on the road.
- Do not drink and drive. As people age, their ability to process alcohol may change. Even one cocktail or a glass of wine or beer may make older drivers unsafe on the road, especially when mixed with different medications.
- Limit distractions. Listening to music or audio books or even chatting with your passengers can distract some older drivers. If you’re among them, turn off the sound and avoid having conversations with others in the car.
- Watch the road. Make sure there is always enough space between your car and the cars in front of you. Also, maintain a safe distance from traffic behind you.
- Drive during daylight as much as possible. Older adults, even those with good vision, can experience visual problems at night due to age, such as from glare from oncoming headlights.
- Avoid bad weather. Rain, snow, fog and other hazardous conditions can be especially dangerous for older drivers. Let the bad weather clear before you get on the road. If you must travel, use public transportation or a car service.
- Choose safer routes. Try to avoid highways that have ramps, which can be dangerous for older drivers. Also, avoid highways or busy roads where you have to make left turns. It’s better to go a little out of your way to avoid difficult intersections and turns.
- Try to drive when there’s less traffic. Peak rush hour traffic can be stressful for all drivers, but it can be particularly stressful for older drivers. Try to limit driving to those times when there’s less traffic on the roads.
- Stressed or tired? Stay where you are until you’re well rested and calm. Driving when you’re not at your best can be dangerous.
- Consult a driving rehabilitation specialist. These professionals are trained to evaluate older drivers for:
- Muscle strength, flexibility, and range of motion
- Coordination and reaction time
- Judgment and decision-making skills
- Ability to drive with special devices that adapt your vehicle to your needs
- After the evaluation, the specialist may recommend ways for you to drive more safely. Suggestions may include special equipment or training. You can find a specialist here.
Make Sure Your Car “Fits”
CarFit is an educational program sponsored by AAA, AARP Driver Safety, and the American Occupational Therapy Association. At a CarFit event, health professionals and experts who specialize in helping older drivers will work with you to make sure your car is properly adjusted for your safety. A CarFit exam takes about 20 minutes to complete.
Strategies for “Age-Proofing” Your Car
New technologies can help make cars safer for older drivers. Recently, the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) looked at 16 new vehicle technologies. They found that these six features helped to reduce crashes and make driving less stressful for older adults.
- Forward collision warning. These systems, which are available in many newer cars, can warn you if you’re about to have a crash. When a potential collision is detected, the car automatically applies the brakes. The AAA/UMTRI study suggested that this technology might improve reaction times and reduce crashes by up to 20%.
- Automatic crash notification. Some cars are equipped with communication technology. In case of a crash -- typically one that triggers airbags to go off -- the car signals emergency services that you’ve been involved in a crash. Emergency services can be notified about the crash without anyone having to call 911.
- Parking assist with rear-view display. Back-up cameras allow drivers to clearly see what’s behind them as they back up. This makes parking easier. Some cars are also equipped with an obstacle-detection warning system, which will notify you if you’re about to hit something.
- Self-parking systems. Some cars have technology that takes over steering while the car parallel parks itself.
- Navigation assistance. According to the study, turn-by-turn GPS systems make older drivers feel safer, more confident, and more relaxed while driving. However, some of these systems may be distracting and difficult to use. Make sure to choose one that is easy for you to use.
Provide Older Adults with Transportation Options
When older adults stop driving, their health can get worse. Giving up the keys almost doubles the symptoms of depression for older adults, and it may also increase declines in physical and mental health, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
So when older adults do stop driving, it’s crucial to maintain their independence by creating alternative transportation solutions.
Make a transportation plan
Have a discussion with the older adult about the places they drive on a regular or even an occasional basis. Write down the specifics of each trip, including the destination and distance, the general time of day the driver goes there, how long they stay, and any other relevant details.
Then, research the travel options available in your area, and select those that match the older adult’s specific needs for each trip they make. List these on your transportation plan.
For example, if an older adult attends a weekly faith-based gathering, think of different ways they could get there. Maybe people from the faith community can provide rides on a rotating basis. The key is, make sure you’ve got all the older adult’s trips covered with a transportation option so they can continue to enjoy their usual activities.
Transportation options will vary depending on your community. They may include:
- Volunteer Programs. Some faith-based and community non-profit organizations often have people who volunteer to drive older adults to various destinations. Each organization offers different options. Rides are either free, on a donation basis, or paid through membership dues.
- Paratransit Services. These include mini-buses and small vans run by public transportation, aging organizations, and private agencies. These services may require reservations in advance, but there are often scheduling options and flexibility. Generally, the transportation is provided curb-to-curb, meaning you meet the vehicle at the curb or roadside and get dropped off at a curb or roadside stop. Some services will pick you up at your door and deliver you right to a specific address. Reduced fares may be offered to senior citizens.
- Door-through-Door Services. Some agencies provide drivers or escorts who will help you get from your home into a waiting vehicle. This service is particularly helpful to older adults who are disabled or need support while walking. Your local aging organization can help see if this is available in your neighborhood.
- Public transportation. Buses, trains and subways, trolleys, and other mass transit options have established routes and times. They may offer reduced fares for older adults and may be accessible for people with disabilities. Your local public transportation department can provide information about fares, schedules, and accessibility.
- Taxi Services. You have several different options for accessing car services. In some cities, you can simply hail a cab on the street. (Make sure you will be able to hail a cab on the other end of the trip as well.) You might also be able to call ahead for a cab, or access rides from services such as Uber or Lyft. These services often require downloading an app onto a mobile device such as a cell phone and may only be available in larger population areas. They also may require pre-registering and providing credit card information.
It’s a good idea to do some research ahead of time to find out the following information about any car services you might use:
- How much do rides cost?
- What method is used to charge for rides? Is it calculated by mileage or by time?
- How far in advance you need to make a reservation?
- Are the vehicles accessible if you use a wheelchair or walker?
- Will drivers help you in or out of the car if you need assistance or have packages?
- What areas do the cars serve and what’s the maximum distance they’ll take you?
- Are drivers properly licensed, insured, and checked by appropriate agencies?
- If drivers provide their own vehicles, are they properly inspected, registered and insured? Do cars have safety belts and other safety features?
Other transportation services
Depending on your needs, these services may also be helpful:
- Travel Training. Some public transportation departments and local organizations that support older adults provide free training classes to help both older adults and people with disabilities access and use local public transit safely and independently. These services help you find the best routes to take to reach the destinations you visit, the cost of the trip, and how to pay for it (exact change, travel cards, tokens, discounts, vouchers, etc.) Many agencies also provide one-on-one demonstrations about how to ride public buses and trains in your area.
- Mobility Managers. In some communities, these people can help guide you through the various transportation options available near you. They understand the local transportation network and can explain how it works. Your local aging organization or public transit agency may be able to connect you to a mobility manager.
- Transportation Voucher Programs. Area Agencies on Aging, Aging and Disability Resource Centers, and other social service organizations may offer financial help with transit fares if you qualify (usually for lower-income older adults or people with disabilities). You have to apply for these programs and you are still responsible for reserving and accessing the transportation service you need.
Last Updated February 2017