Challenges of Driving for Older Adults: How to Recognize and Overcome Age-Related Change

What Is The New Rule for Senior Drivers?

Senior driver's license renewal
As of 2022, there are over 47 million licensed drivers ages 65 and older in the United States. It is estimated that by 2050, 1 in 4 licensed drivers will be an older adult. With more older drivers on the road, there is a potential for more serious and fatal traffic accidents.

California, along with 33 other states, have a special driving rule for older adults. Drivers 70 and older are required to do the following in order to renew their drivers’ license: 

  • Renew their license in person, not online or through mail 
  • Take a written test and eye exam

The California DMV does not set age limits for older drivers, instead advocating for driving independence. Therefore, it is up to the driver’s family or loved ones to decide when it is safe for them to get behind the wheel. Whether you are a senior driver or have an elderly loved one, it is important to have an honest conversation about driving safety and recognize potential warning signs. 


Mature Drivers and Age-Related Changes 

Age group younger drivers
There are a variety of potential safety challenges for older drivers, including medication, reduced reaction time, and changes in vision. 

Medication Side Effects

Medical conditions like arthritis, diabetes, and high blood pressure can negatively affect driving ability. Additionally, medications can come with a laundry list of side effects, including: 

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness 
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion or memory loss 

Before getting behind the wheel, it is important to check a medication’s side effects. If possible, take certain medications at night or before going to sleep.

Reduced Reaction Time

Reaction time is the time between a stimulus and your reaction to the stimulus. When driving, your reaction time is critical. It could be responding to a driver making a quick lane change, a road hazard like a pothole, or a child darting into the road. However, reaction time slows down with age, due to the gradual loss of neurons in the brain. A reduced reaction time can result in an older driver causing or contributing to an accident. To improve your reaction time, get enough sleep, stay hydrated, play a sport, and each an antioxidant-rich diet. 

Cognitive Function 

Cognition is essentially the ability to acquire and process information, and is linked to memory, attention, judgment, and decision making. It declines with age, making it harder to focus, multitask, and learn new skills. Illnesses including dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Parkinson’s Disease all affect cognitive abilities, and make it very difficult to drive safely and independently. Keeping your mind active through various cognitive games, exercise, and low stress can help with improve brain health. 

Impaired Vision and Hearing 

A person’s vision deteriorates with age, making it harder to see clearly and distinguish colors. Older drivers may experience cataracts, glaucoma, or macular degeneration that impair their vision. Regular eye exams and tests can catch eyesight issues before they get serious. 

Hearing loss can also affect a person’s driving skills, making it harder to hear certain sounds and respond to situations. Senior citizens with hearing loss should use hearing aids and reduce distractions while driving. 


Common Causes of Accidents Involving Older Drivers

State highway safety offices of a certain age
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), older drivers were involved in 17% of all fatal traffic accidents in 2021, totaling nearly 7,500 deaths. The month of October recorded the most fatalities. 

Some of the most common causes of elderly related car accidents are: 

  • Failure to yield right-of-way
  • Driving through a red light or stop sign
  • Improper turns 
  • Unprotected left turns 
  • Driving too slow
  • Following too close (tailgating)
  • Misjudging distances and speeds of other vehicles 

Seniors are much more likely to sustain fatal injuries in a car accident compared to young drivers. They are also at risk of developing more serious complications like chronic neck or back pain after an injury. 


Senior Driving Safety Tips

Safe driving road test

Avoid Driving at Night 

Driving at night can be dangerous for senior drivers because of impaired night vision. As people age, their eyesight can worsen, making it harder to see clearly, especially in low-light conditions. Older drivers should also refrain from freeway driving, driving during heavy traffic and in bad weather conditions, as these can increase the risk of an accident.

If you have to drive at night, make sure your headlights, taillights, and windshield are clean and working properly, and do not use your high beams if there is oncoming traffic. 

Enroll in a Safety Course 

Another tip for senior drivers is to enroll in a safety course. A safety course can help refresh your driving skills, learn about the latest traffic laws and regulations, and adapt to the changes in your physical and mental abilities. A safety course can also help you reduce your insurance premiums, as some insurance companies offer discounts for drivers who complete a certified course. 

One option is the Mature Driver Program, which is offered by the California DMV. It consists of an eight-hour course covering a range of topics, and is aimed at drivers 55 years and older. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) offers a free “Age Well, Drive Smart” class for drivers 65 and older. 

Get an Annual Eye Exam 

Yearly eye exams can help prevent vision problems that can affect your driving performance and safety. Eye exams can detect and treat conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and presbyopia, which can impair your ability to see clearly, especially at night, in bad weather, or in bright sunlight. Eye exams can also help you get the right prescription and fit for your glasses or contact lenses. 

Use Public Transportation

At a certain point, it is unsafe for an elderly adult to drive. While it is a tough conversation to have, you should be honest with yourself and your family about your driving abilities and limitations. If you feel that you are no longer able to drive safely and confidently, you should consider giving up your car and using alternate forms of transportation. 

Public transportation can offer many benefits for older drivers, such as saving money, reducing stress, improving health, and increasing social interaction. You can also consider elderly transportation services in your city or rideshare companies like Uber or Lyft.


Consult an Orange County Car Accident Lawyer 

If you were in a car accident as an older driver or involving an older driver, you may be eligible for compensation. While you may be able to file a car accident claim on your own, hiring an experienced car accident lawyer can help expedite the process and help you obtain a settlement much faster. 

The Law Offices of Daniel Kim is one of Orange County’s top personal injury law firms. We also have locations across California, including Costa Mesa, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, and Bakersfield

Contact our legal team directly for a free consultation by calling (800) 719-9779 or by filling out this online contact form