Most seniors believe they retain safe driving habits and skills longer than they actually do. Changes in vision, hearing, and reaction time affect driving skills as people age. Many seniors compensate for these changes by avoiding driving during rush hour, staying off freeways, and not driving after dark. However, these limits do not affect such problems as confusing the accelerator and brake pedals or turning left in front of oncoming traffic, common reasons for crashes involving elderly drivers.
Additional signs of difficulty in driving may include drifting into other lanes of traffic, turning without signaling and driving the wrong way into oncoming traffic, each a significant risk to the elderly driver and those on the road at the same time.
Older adults with cognitive impairments such as memory loss or disorientation to time or place cause risk to themselves and others when they continue to drive. They may lose their way, ending up many miles from their intended destinations, they may lose their car in parking lots, and they may be unable to find their way home. Struggling with these issues creates a further hazard as concentration and focus on actual driving is affected once one realizes they are lost.
AARP and AAA offer programs to maximize the skills of older drivers. Some states offer a reduction in car insurance premiums for drivers who complete a safe driving course. Seniors should ask for input regarding their driving skills from their families and doctors. Driver testing can be arranged through the sites that test for driver’s licenses or through agencies that train disabled people to drive. Many agencies exist to evaluate seniors driving in their own familiar neighborhood to see what permissions may be possible and what restrictions may be needed. If drivers refuse to stop driving, a geriatric care consultant can intervene to arrange for proper evaluation and alternatives to driving.