More older drivers are on the roads today than ever before. There were 47.7 million drivers in the United States age 65 and older as of 2020, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That was a 38% increase from 2010, compared to just an 8% bump in the total number of licensed drivers.
Remaining an active driver can provide older adults with a much-valued level of independence. However, the physical and cognitive changes that come with aging, coupled with medical conditions and increased medication use can put older drivers at a greater risk behind the wheel.
Here are some of the biggest challenges older drivers face and how to overcome them.
Just about everyone’s eyesight gets worse as they age thanks to a condition called presbyopia. Over time, the lenses in your eyes stiffen, making it more difficult to focus on nearby objects. Other diseases, such as glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration, can exacerbate the problem.
On the road, vision problems can make it difficult to see pedestrians, cars, signs and hazards, especially at night or in low-light conditions. A study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that one-third of crashes involving older drivers were the result of inadequate surveillance, mostly looking but not seeing another vehicle or traffic control.
Hearing loss is another common problem for older adults, and though we might not think of hearing as a critical sense for driving – it is. Recognizing horns and sirens can help you steer clear of danger and avoid a crash.
Sore Muscles and Joints
As you age, your muscles may become weaker and your joints stiffer. Arthritis, or joint inflammation, is particularly common in older adults. It can be painful to move afflicted parts of your body, making it difficult to pull off even the most basic physical movements needed to drive a car safely, such as turning the steering wheel, applying pressure to the brake or accelerator and turning your head to see your surroundings.
Research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that nearly 50% of older drivers were using seven or more medications. Many medications come with potentially impairing side effects, such as blurred vision, confusion, fatigue or incoordination. Symptoms like these can increase the likelihood of a crash by up to 300%
Slow Reaction Time
Reflexes tend to slow down as you age, making it difficult to react to sudden changes on the roadway in a timely manner. This can put you at a greater risk for a crash.
Studies have shown that older drivers have more trouble with specific aspects of driving. These include merging, passing through intersections and judging the space between vehicles and the speed of other cars.
How Older Drivers Can Remain Safe Drivers
- Talk to your doctor. Have an honest conversation with your doctor regarding your health and whether or not it’s safe for you to drive. You may also want to devise an exercise program under their guidance to increase your strength and flexibility.
- Ask about side effects. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, many drivers prescribed potentially impairing medications are never warned by their health care provider about how the medicine could impact their driving ability.
- Get your eyesight checked regularly. Your vision changes as you age, so make sure to visit your eye doctor at least once a year. Never drive without wearing your prescribed glasses or contacts.
- Be smart about when you drive. If possible, avoid driving at dawn, dusk or nighttime. The limited light and/or sun glare during these times of day make it more difficult to see. You also may want to make things easier for yourself by avoiding the road during rush hour and other times of high traffic.
- Adapt your vehicle. Hand controls can allow you to operate the brake and accelerator with handles, which you may find easier than using your feet. Seat boosters can give you a better line of vision from behind the wheel.
- Take an adult driving lesson. Learning how to drive is not just for teenagers. Whether you’re a brand-new driver or just need a refresher, it’s never too late to improve your skills behind the wheel. As always, AAA is here to help. Learn about our Adult Driver Training program and sign up today!
- Utilize AAA’s Key Timing program. This online resource covers “driving retirement” and guides families through the process of developing a mobility plan for their older loved ones. It includes state-specific transportation resources and driver evaluation information.
Are you an older driver? What are some challenges you’ve encountered behind the wheel? Let us know in the comments below.
40 Thoughts on “Top Challenges for Older Drivers”
I find it the most difficult when the painted lines on the road are fading or missing altogether. Especially the one on the right side of the road. When oncoming traffic has the bright lights on, the line on the right side of the road is the only thing you can focus on at that moment.
Radar controlled safety assist features on the newer cars such as adaptive cruise control and brake assist have been very helpful to me; without them I would have had to switch to hand controls. Lane departure warning and blind spot warning can help prevent accidents for all drivers but especially so for older drivers.
I find that the yellow glasses or goggles made for night driving help me see better win the dark. They cut down the glare from oncoming traffic and somehow seem to make the night a little bit lighter. They are available as glasses or as “sun-shields” that go over your glasses.
Agreed, However all yellow lenses are not created equal. I own Several pair that serve a dual purpose when I drive my convertible in the evening.
They protect my eyes from wind, flying road debris, ( Bugs, Dirt), and they cut down on Glare.
The better ones actually enhance my visibility by making things brighter. The others cut glare but seem to cut out some of the illumination.
Suggest you try a few different pairs and utilize the ones that are best for you.
I have glaucoma, a field of vision defect and scar tissue on my right retina. It’s not only a challenge at night but with everything I do every day. Very frustrating while reading, but it’s here to stay and I have to make the best of it. I only drive places I know where I’m going at night because I can’t read street signs very well. When I do drive, I wear those “lovely” orange nighttime glasses, but they really do work. And someone above mentioned looking down and right when blinded….that helps you know where you are on the road since you can’t see much of anything but glaring lights when looking ahead. Even walking the dog at night I’m blinded by those LED lights. I just put a hand over my eyes like a visor and I can see where I’m walking. The challenges of growing older are many, but I’m thankful to be here and be as active as I am.
When you have to leave your car off for service, or have it inspected, when you return to your car, the seats height, space to pedals and steering wheel have all been changed. Often someone is waiting for you to move your car in a hurry as they need your spot. You must then readjust everything prior to getting on the road, and sometimes your extra seat cushion has been moved. We have to perform minutes of adjustments, just to get comfortable behind the wheel again. Often the tilt of the steering wheel has even been changed. I think service areas, inspection people, should be more aware that they are actually endangering their customers and should alert their employees to assist in making sure the seats and steering are back where they belong for the drivers. This would be a courtesy as well as a safety assist to all of our older drivers. For ex. I am 5 feet tall, use an extra cushion and had my seat perfectly adjusted, my steering wheel at the proper tilt for me. The inspection guy was about 6’7”. When I went to get back in my car. He said, just a minute I moved your seat, let me help you get it adjusted. I will definitely go back there for my next inspection. An extra 5 minutes can save lives.
Blaring, bright, blue lights from oncoming cars during sundown and night are the worst I’ve even seen in my life. Bright lights are on even though it’s not night and the blue lights create a halo around my eyes. I also dislike car lights that look like faces and then the pickups that are behind me don’t care that I’m blinded by their lights as they are situated higher up than my car. Rude, insensitive drivers dart back and forth and weave in and out of lanes if I prefer not to be intimidated by drivers who may be too young to be behind the wheel. However, one of the ways I’ve help myself during night is I got anti-glare glasses for distance and they help tremendously. I recommend them to everyone. I have my eyes checked every year by my opthomalogist and he always says I’m very lucky to have such good eyes. Keeping fit and forgetting about the PHONE and stop reading every turn on the GPS and looking at your surroundings is the best advice I can give. My grandchildren can’t drive without the GPS, so they never really know where they are. Look around, see your markers, know which way you’re heading, north or south, and be aware. Seniors got here without the GPS. I refuse to have one and still know how to read a map and know what direction I’m heading in.
As a runner, there are times when drivers will look for cars when making a turn, but not pedestrians.
Whenever possible, I back into a parking spot so I have clear visibility when leaving a location.
By the way, those glasses are for night driving and help with lights from other vehicles especially oncoming traffic.
Anti-glare, anti-reflective glasses help considerably. STRONGLY suggest educating yourself about what these terms mean before purchasing. Blue tint is not what you’re looking for. I got 2 pair online for less than $15. Very pleased with them and while they aren’t perfect, they definitely, definitely help.
I want to thank you for publishing other drivers’ comments and hopeful related auto driving suggestions to ameliorate their mentioned difficulties, I found it extremely helpful and at the same time reassuring. Thank you AAA. Marty Collins
night time Lighting is being mismanaged. For decades its been known that longer wavelength (yellow- orange- redder) lighting is better at night than simply brighter white lights. Ever since the LED craze, even though it purports to be more energy efficient, is worse at nighttime. This (white-blue) lighting performs even worse as the humidity rises. Higher energy lighting ( shorter wavelengths) tend to scatter more and cause the effect of glare and other distortion. Bridges “used” to be lined with yellow, orange or red colored lighting. for this reason (aircraft warnings around bodies of water). The rush to LED should have been delayed until the current “color tune-able LED lighting” was available. The new street lighting, all glare, is virtually useless. Check for your shadow next time your under one of these, and how fast it dissipates as you walk away, all glare.
My major concern about driving is driving at night. I have pretty much given that up. Fortunately my daughter is willing to pick me up if driving at night is required.
The biggest problem I encounter is oncoming headlights at night. It seems that more and more drivers use their high beams all the time – or headlights are much brighter than they used to be. It takes much longer for my eyes to readjust after a car passes with their high beams on – basically, I’m driving blind for a moment until my eyes readjust. With age, this is taking longer, so I may eventually have to stop driving at night.
I don’t understand this phenomenon, but it’s real. The NYT addressed this in a newsletter. Not only are drivers using high beams more and more often, auto manufacturers have been installing dangerously bright headlights. This is not so much a problem on major highways, but on two-lane roads, as I mentioned to a former traffic officer, there are times when I cannot see the road in front of me, anything in, on, or to the side of the road, or the car coming at me because the oncoming headlights are so bright. Moreover, the turn signals of an oncoming car can be bleached out due to the brightness of headlights. Because of this I find myself looking down and to the right to ensure that I am staying on the road, but this is an expedient, not a solution.
It is a fact that older people have an impairment of vision through lack of contrast, and through disability with low lighting, e g night driving .
There are simple tests for these very important issues but the medical profession dealing with vision does not use them. This should be part of eye testing for people over 65 . I would like to see AAA taking this up as a national issue.
Also everyone seeing a doctor gets their blood pressure measured. There should be a simple eye testing chart on the wall were the patient quickly reads the smallest line of print which is recorded. Their doctor can advise them, if necessary to go get a professional eye test.
I have two problems is driving at night. The first one is the lights from on-coming traffic. It seems to me that most cars seem to have led lights which are extra bright and they are blinding; I drive a sedan, which puts me at a disadvantage since everyone is driving suv’s and trucks and the lights on these tall cars hit my car light high lights. My second problem is that poor lighting in many streets. I try to avoid having to drive at night but it can become quite inconvenient.
I agree with your comment about SUV and truck headlights that are mounted so high that you are blinded by them if you drive a sedan. When SUVs started becoming popular, NHTSA proposed a regulation that would require that headlights on SUVs be mounted at the same height as on sedans. Unfortunately, this went nowhere (perhaps due to automobile manufacturers not wanting to change the designs of their vehicles). At the very least, the government could have required that the aiming of SUV or truck headlights be set to a lower level. I’d like to see AAA advocate for this.
So that problem and the fact that aging decreases seniors’ night vision, results in fewer nighttime trips. I try to schedule most of my driving during daylight hours.
That’s really not at all surprising. I’ve witnessed drivers who go way over the speed limit, cut others off, refuse to stop at STOP signs, run red lights, and cause horrible back-ups at intersections, especially during rush-hour, because they’re so anxious to get to where they’re going, and they bollux everybody else up. It’s disgusting. I’ve also seen drivers speed past drivers who they think are going too slow, and even cross the double yellow line(s) because they’re so anxious to pass. Boston’s Southeast Expressway is the most intense example of what goes on. People drive like they’re on the Indianapolis Speedway, and there are a lot of crashes on the Southeast Expressway, in part because of that. Moreover, it’s rush hour 24/7 on the Southeast Expressway, also.
I agree, all drivers, but especially older drivers, who obey speed limits and other traffic regulations but face dangerous situations from those who speed or drive recklessly, will benefit from enhanced enforcement of driving rules, including using speed cameras and other automated devices. But too many are unwilling to call for enforcement, out of privacy or civil rights fears, hostility to police, hostility to government regulation…
I drive on the “Mass Pike” (I-90) on Sunday mornings. No traffic. I’m usually going a little over the speed limit, and vehicles pass me like I’m standing still. And then they blast past the State Trooper parked behind the bridge ahead. I have NEVER seen one of these vehicles pulled over for speeding. They are probably going over 80 MPH. If the police won’t enforce the laws we have (i.e. stop signs, no right on red, turn signal usage, tailgating, driving erratically, speeding), there is an increase in accidents, which probably have a greater impact on older drivers.
AT 78, i am fortunate I still have good peripheral vision and good reaction . On several recent occasions, I have had drivers veer into my path as they suddenly decided to take a different direction at an intersection and cut directly into my path from the left. In one instance, the other vehicle came within a few inches of colliding with my car.
LED headlights are a huge problem at night. AAA should sponsor a study of how many accidents/pedestrian strikes occur at dusk/night on local roads. Then push the government to prohibit LEDs on new cars until the manufacturers can revise them to be safe.
Sun glare is definitely an issue—for me it’s when the sun is low before dusk hitting the hood and windshield. Keeping the inside of the windshield free from the film that builds up is essential.
I’ve always had the same problems since I started driving at 16. Bad / Rude drivers that don’t follow the rules. I see people all the time not using turn signals, not fully stopping at stop signs, ignoring stop signs, texting on their phone. Honestly I’m over 65. Some people should have their license taken away because they’re not capable of driving. My opinion is they were always bad drivers and getting old exacerbated their poor driving habits.
Looking out for the other drivers can be a challenge. A safe driving class should not be an option, but mandatory.