It is not age alone that puts seniors at risk. Medical conditions and medications can affect both mind and body, and so influence driving ability. Some conditions also affect insight, making a senior unaware of driving dangerously.
As a senior driver, you must think about whether you can still drive safely. Understanding the facts about seniors and driving may help. If you have doubts, consider having your driving skills evaluated. Part of driving responsibly involves knowing when to stop. The following questions may help you or your family decide.
Crashes involving seniors are often due to medical conditions that reduce safe driving skills. Conditions of the environment or the road are not the issue. Most of these accidents happen during the day, on good roads, in familiar locations close to home.
Compared to senior drivers living in the city, those in rural communities are more likely to die in crashes. Rural drivers travel at higher speeds on the highway. In addition, crashes where a senior is at fault most often involve more than one vehicle. This means that continuing to drive when you are unsafe puts other road users at risk. Remember, traveling at a slower speed will not lessen your risk of a crash. In fact, you may risk a crash by going slower than the expected speed limit.
Many illnesses can affect your ability to drive safely. Some of these conditions include dementia (e.g., Alzheimer disease, vascular dementia), chronic heart disease, strokes, diabetes, chronic lung disease, and Parkinson’s disease.
The chart below shows the increased risk for a collision for people with various conditions or illnesses.
Medications such as sleeping pills, tranquilizers, pain medications, and those used to treat depression, also increase the risk of unsafe driving. Of course, so does alcohol.
Most people think they will be able to tell when it is time to stop. Some are able to be objective and honest and change their driving when necessary. However, many medical conditions that affect the ability to drive also affect insight and judgment. In this case, you may think you are safe to drive when in fact you are not. At this point, others should help evaluate driving ability. Studies show that family members such as spouses are not always good judges of driving safety. If you think that your driving might be unsafe, ask your doctor for a driving evaluation referral. If you are concerned about someone in your family, you can also ask to have that person referred for an evaluation.
At any age, it is your responsibility and legal obligation to make your provincial department responsible for driver fitness aware of any illness that might affect your driving. Your ability to drive safely is always a concern, not just when a medical is required. Your family doctor can help you decide if illness is affecting your ability to drive.
Visit your family doctor if you have concerns about how your health could affect your driving. A change in ability to do usual tasks such as cooking, banking, or driving can be due to an illness or medications. Your family doctor can assess the change and look for reasons to explain it. Treatment can help you feel and function better. Your doctor may send you for further testing if questions remain about your ability. A DriveABLE assessment can evaluate cognitive concerns while an occupational therapist can assess physical impairment.
Having a medical condition does not automatically make you unsafe to drive. Conditions affect people in different ways, so individual assessment is important. With some medical conditions, you do reach a point when you must stop driving. Anyone with an illness that gets worse over time, such as Alzheimer disease, must plan for this day. If you have difficulty accepting the loss of your license, there are support groups specially designed to help you cope with no longer being able to drive.
It is important to plan ahead for a time when safe driving may not be possible. Friends and family may be able to help you to stay mobile. Developing a transportation budget is an important step in helping you to be independent and mobile. Calculate how much you have invested in your car, insurance, fuel, and maintenance. Those dollars can be used to take taxis, use a seniors’ driving service, or pay friends or family for rides.
Driving is a serious responsibility. Many senior drivers have excellent driving records and so deserve our congratulations and respect. However, things change. Even the best driver can become very dangerous if medical conditions and medications affect the ability to drive. Take responsibility for your own health and that of others. Monitor health and medication changes that might affect your ability, and ask others to assist if you seem unaware of them.
Warning signs for unsafe driving
Signs* that don’t involve driving
Signs* that involve driving
Problems with word finding
Problems with judgment, planning
Difficulty understanding verbal instructions
Getting lost or disoriented
Trouble with ordinary tasks
|Missing traffic signs
Driving too slowly
Getting lost in familiar areas
Being unaware of others on the road
Difficulty making lane changes
Difficulty staying in the lane
Making wrong turns
Having other drivers honk at you