Ways To Address Physical, Sensory or Health Issues Affecting Driving

Ways To Address Physical, Sensory or Health Issues Affecting Driving

Solutions to address physical, sensory or health issues related to driving include:

  • Getting professional help
  • Making changes to driving habits
  • Adjusting the car
  • Strengthening driving skills
  • Considering alternatives to driving

Getting Professional Help

Older adults' driving might change if they have:

  • Stiffness or reduced flexibility, especially in their neck, shoulders or arms
  • Weak muscles
  • Vision problems
  • Hearing loss
  • Pain or chronic conditions that aren't being treated or managed well

Health professionals can help identify, treat and manage these issues.

Bring questions and concerns to the older adult's primary care provider. Health specialists who can help with driving including physical therapists (for strength, flexibility and mobility issues), optometrists and ophthalmologists (for vision problems), and audiologists (for hearing loss.)

Tell health professionals about any driving concerns and ask questions during appointments. Ask if any new medications, diagnoses or treatments might affect driving.

Make sure that the older adult gets thorough physical and eye exams every year.

Ask a pharmacist or other health professional to review all the older adult's medications. Ask if any might affect driving. Sometimes, changing or reducing medications can help make driving safer.

For a thorough medication review:

  • Bring all of the older adult's medications, prescription and over-the-counter
  • Discuss when and how the older adult takes each medication
  • Ask the health professional what each medication is for
  • Ask the health professional what side effects each medication might have
  • Ask if the older adult has side effects, difficulty swallowing pills or taking medications as directed, or any other medication problems

Making Changes to Driving Habits

The older adult might be able to improve driving safety by changing where, when or how they drive.

Older adults often make changes to their driving, including:

  • Avoiding driving at night or during bad weather
  • Avoiding driving on busy streets or during rush hour
  • Avoiding left turns or paying special attention when turning left
  • Turning their head to look for other cars before changing lanes
  • Parking where there is more space
  • Parking so that the older adult can drive forward when leaving, rather than backing up

Ask if the older adult has changed driving habits or would like to.

Discuss the changes listed above. These changes can improve safety because old drivers can have trouble seeing well at night, driving in reverse and making turns. Left turns at intersections have especially high crash rates for older drivers.

Encourage the older adult to always wear a seat belt, drive the speed limit, pull over before using a cell phone or other devices, and follow basic driving safety rules.

Adjusting the Car

You can make simple adjustments to the car so that it fits the older adult better, by:

  • Moving the driver's seat back or forward, or higher or lower, so that the older adult can see the road well, press the pedals down fully and are at least 12 inches away from the steering wheel (outside the airbag deployment zone)
  • Adjusting the steering wheel so that it doesn't block the older adult's view, there's space between the wheel and their lap, and the center of the wheel is angled toward their body (not their face)
  • Adjusting the shoulder part of the seat belt by moving the anchor where the belt meets the side of the car up or down, so that the belt runs over the shoulder
  • Adjusting the rear-view mirror, so that the older adult can see the entire rear window
  • Adjusting the left-side mirror, so that the older adult just see the left rear of the car when their head is against the driver's side window
  • Adjusting the right-side mirror, so that the older adult can just see the right rear of the car when leaning towards the middle of the car

Adjusting the mirrors will shrink but not get rid of blind spots on either side of the vehicle.

Make sure that the older adult both checks their mirrors and turns their head to look for traffic before changing lanes.

Ask if the older adult would like to have a professional driving assessment by an occupational therapist. The therapist can suggest driving strategies and modifications to the car, such as pedal extenders, steering devices, wide-view mirrors, seat swivels, gas cap wrenches and key holders.

Strengthening Driving Skills

Talk to the older adult about taking a driving class. Some defensive driving classes help older drivers adjust to common age-related changes. Some insurance companies give discounts to drivers who take these courses.

If the older adult has a professional driving assessment, the occupational therapist can suggest specific on-the-road training and other ways to improve driving safety.

Considering Alternatives to Driving

If the older adult has increasing problems or concerns with driving, talk to them about driving less and finding other ways to get around.

Ask if the older adult can make gradual changes by:

  • Driving shorter distances
  • Driving only during daylight hours
  • Driving only on familiar roads
  • Not driving in bad weather
  • Avoiding left turns on busy streets, unless there's a left turn arrow
  • Avoiding driving on busy streets or during rush hour
  • Getting rides with others when possible

Look into transportation alternatives in the older adult's area, such as public transit, volunteer driver programs or rideshare programs. Ask family, friends and neighbors if they might be willing to drive the older adult around occasionally.

If the older adult start driving less, make sure the older adult can still visit friends and family and take part in social activities. When older adults drive less or stop driving, they can become isolated or depressed.

If the older adult stops driving, ask if the older adult wants to keep the car, so that others can use it. Ask if the older adult wants to keep a driver's license or get another form of identification for travel, voting and other uses.