Driving safety for older adults

Older white man sitting in the driver's seat of a sedan. The car door is open.A variety of physical and cognitive issues arise with age, which can impact driving. While driving allows adults to be independent and mobile, it’s important to keep safety as the top priority. A Baylor College of Medicine geriatrician provides safe driving tips and details how to know when to stop.

“Most older adults are more conscious of when they need to modify their driving than younger individuals,” said Dr. Angela Catic, associate professor of medicine – geriatrics and palliative medicine. “Many stop driving at night or avoid rush hour and inclement weather.”

The natural aging process brings issues that could impair driving, such as the stiffness of the joints and muscles that come along with arthritis. Vision decreases as adults get older. Glares are more bothersome, driving at night becomes more difficult and people are more likely to have illnesses of the eye that impact vision. Hearing diminishes too, which makes it difficult to hear sirens or cars honking on the road. Different neurological issues impact movement, such as Parkinson’s disease, a stroke that leads to paralysis on one side or cognitive issues like dementia. People who take medications for various conditions that cause fatigue, dizziness or light-headedness should avoid driving.

Newer cars have potential advantages for older adults. Automatic transmission, backup cameras, power brakes, large mirrors and sensor technology that automatically stop the car are beneficial. Reaction times are slower in older adults, so the automatic stop is beneficial for those who cannot stop the car as quickly.

Catic recommends getting a car that is comfortable, which varies based on people’s size. It might be difficult for some to get into a car that is too low or too high. Test different sizes to understand which works best for your needs. While driving, focus on the task at hand and adjust the radio and temperature before you leave. If you need to make changes, pull over to do so.

“I worry if older adults are relying on GPS to go somewhere they’ve been many times before that we anticipate they should be familiar with. That raises a red flag about underlying cognitive issues,” she said.

If you or an older loved one feels less comfortable on the road, have “close calls” (almost accidents) or start getting lost in familiar areas, it might be time to consider alternate methods of transportation. Catic suggests speaking with a medical provider who can offer ways to make driving easier and safer. If you notice that driving is becoming more difficult, visit an occupational therapist to learn more about modifications they can make with mirrors, cushions and other devices to facilitate safe driving. Driving evaluations also are available in a variety of places.

Older adults might eventually reach a point where driving is no longer an option. If a loved one should stop driving, remind them of your concerns and reassure them that they have been a great driver throughout their life, while coming up with solutions for transportation.

“Most of us don’t drive because we love driving; we drive to get places. It’s a means to be independent and do the things we enjoy,” Catic said. “Don’t take away the keys and leave them hanging. Reassure them by taking them to their appointments or offering taxi vouchers – anything for them to have that independence and do the things they love.”

Learn more about the Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine specialists at Baylor Medicine. 

By Homa Warren

One thought on “Driving safety for older adults

  • The driving for elders article was excellent. It allowed me to pass it on to a friend who is having serious difficulties realizing she needs to consider alternate modes of transportation.
    With Uber and other available services, there is no reason to take a risk with your life and the life of others.


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