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Modifying driving habits of older adults


Many people find their driving habits changing naturally as they get older. While older drivers may become more cautious and less likely to text or drink and drive, aging can also mean that drivers need a little extra help. This article provides some helpful tips for evaluating a driver’s baseline physical and mental capabilities and then discusses steps for changing where and how someone drives. It also covers modifications that can be made to a driver’s car.

Evaluating a driver’s condition

When it’s time to modify a person’s driving habits, make sure to start with a baseline. Knowing a driver’s physical, mental, and emotional state will help when it comes to making changes to driving habits later on.  

  • Have the person take hearing, vision, and strength tests to help decide what modifications are most important. For example, if a driver has experienced a change in night vision, they can avoid driving at night; if hearing is a concern, then perhaps staying away from more crowded areas and rush-hour traffic could help. 
  • Consider a more formal driving skills evaluation test as well. Evaluate regularly, especially if the driver’s habits have changed rapidly. 
  • Finally, at least once every six months, check for the possibility of drug interactions affecting the person’s driving abilities.

Changing how and where someone drives

Older drivers can avoid traffic incidents or accidents more easily by adapting the way they drive. Adapting to changes in physical abilities can help drivers be more confident and secure on the road.

  • Leave more space. Reaction times slow as people get older, so it’s a good idea for them to leave more space between themselves and the cars in front and behind. This applies when turning, too.
  • Brake earlier. In addition to leaving more space, braking early when a driver needs to stop will compensate for slower reaction times.
  • Take shorter trips. Fatigue can affect the way a person drives, slowing reaction time. Mental and physical exhaustion make longer trips more difficult. If a longer trip is necessary, drivers should take more breaks. 
  • Do less night driving. Age decreases the ability to see clearly at night, so limiting night driving is an important step to keeping older drivers safe while driving. 
  • Avoid busy and fast roads. Rush hour on a busy highway or city street is full of chaos and split-second decisions. By staying clear of congested roads, fast-moving freeways, and rush hour traffic, older drivers will be less stressed and safer.
  • Stay right. If an older driver must travel on interstate highways or other high-speed roadways, having them stay in the right lane is a good idea. 

Modifying a driver’s car

Making physical changes to a car is surprisingly easy and affordable. Not every older driver needs to get a brand new car; simply by adding a few more amenities, drivers can enjoy the ride and remain safe on the roads. 

  • Pedal extenders. Extenders for gas and brake pedals decrease the likelihood of missing the pedal and causing an accident.
  • Cushions or pads. As people age, their joints begin to suffer from stiffness. Folding  into a car may bring pain in places that were fine before. Consider adding a cushion to the seat, or padding on the sides of the existing seat, to make the ride more comfortable.
  • Steering wheel cover. Arthritis makes gripping the steering wheel more painful for older drivers. It also makes turning the wheel more difficult and can cause slip-ups that lead to accidents. A leather or synthetic cover adds a better surface for gripping and turning the wheel.
  • Modified mirrors. Convex or multifaceted mirrors offer better visibility, including better blind spot awareness. This reduces the driver’s need to physically turn their head, which is often more difficult for older drivers. 
  • Seat belt adaptors. Reaching backwards to adjust a seatbelt can be difficult for those with less mobility, and fastening the belt is often hard on arthritic joints. Seat belt reachers help pull the seatbelt forward without the driver having to twist backward, and products like the Seat Belt Buckle Bopper offer softer buttons to release the seat belt. 

Related information

Arranging for and conducting a formal driving assessment

Curtailing unsafe driving habits

Factors that contribute to unsafe driving

Getting help with an unsafe driver

Physically limiting vehicle access for unsafe drivers

Reviewing driving regulations and legal risks

Unsafe driving warning signs

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