Driving Safety for Older Adults

Diagnosis & Tests

Signs that an Older Adult’s Driving Skills Need Testing

How do you know whether you or an older friend or family member is developing difficulty driving? This list of issues can be warning signs that an older driver may need to be tested or evaluated by a professional:

  • Getting lost, even when driving short, familiar routes
  • Failing to obey traffic signs or signals
  • Cutting off other drivers, straddling lanes, or making wide turns
  • Reacting slowly to emergencies
  • Falling asleep behind the wheel or appearing inattentive
  • Becoming easily angered or agitated
  • Using poor judgment, such as not yielding right-of-way
  • Forgetting to use mirrors or turn signals or check for blind spots
  • Having trouble judging distances

Know what medications an older adult is taking. Some medications can make people feel drowsy and less alert than usual, or can affect their reaction time and other attention issues. Some prescription labels may warn against driving while taking the drug. Review an older adult’s medications with their primary care provider or a pharmacist to see if their drug(s) could lead to unsafe driving.

According to the AAA's website on Senior Driving, two-thirds of senior drivers age 65 and older take five or more daily medications that can affect their ability to drive safely.

What Tests Should an Older Driver Take?

First, check your state’s rules. Many states have laws that require testing or other requirements for older drivers. Also, check the older adult’s license to see when it’s time for renewal.

 Learn more about specific state requirements

 

Experts most often recommend these tests to help determine how safe a driver an older adult may be.

  • Start with a good physical. Have the older adult’s primary care provider examine them for changes that may affect driving, including fitness level.
  • Consider cognitive testing. If you’re concerned that an older adult may be having memory problems, dementia, or other issues that affect the ability to think and make decisions, talk to the primary care provider. The provider can do some simple tests to assess the older adult’s mental skills and determine whether they have the mental ability to drive safely.
  • Have their vision checked. An optometrist or an ophthalmologist can evaluate an older adult’s vision for problems that may reduce the ability to drive safely.
  • Get a pro to evaluate an older adult’s driving. An occupational therapist (OT) trained as a driving rehabilitation specialist (DRS) can conduct a “ride-along” with an older adult to see whether or not they drive safely and competently. A DRS can also recommend whether or not the older adult needs to take review classes in driver safety. What’s more, the OT can provide insight about equipment that could make the car safer for the older adult to drive.

 

Last Updated February 2017