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Older Drivers: When Should You Give Up Driving?

By: Kevin Dowling BA (IMC) - Updated: 5 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Older Driver Drivers Driving Vehicle

Driving can be stressful. As we get older, the stress we feel when driving can increase. Younger drivers always seem more impatient, in a greater hurry to overtake and can often intimidate older drivers.

It is also true that many more mature drivers find that driving gets more difficult with the passing of time. Many find themselves with a reduced ability to see clearly at night, or simply find sitting in the driving position for long periods too uncomfortable to bear.

The question that one day will face practically every older driver is: when should they give up driving for good?

There is no simple answer to this question, everyone is different after all. There are, however, some signs that older drivers should be aware of. If some or all of the points we raise below sound familiar, then you may consider whether the time to retire is approaching.

Spotting the Physical Signs of Ageing

One of the most obvious signs of ageing is a physical deterioration. Over time, muscles get weaker, joints can stiffen up and we generally become less flexible. Our reflexes also tend to slow down, making our reaction times longer.

All of these physical marks of ageing can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to drive a vehicle. A simple act such as turning the steering wheel can become painful, as can braking or changing gears.

Many older drivers also find it awkward and uncomfortable sitting in the driver’s position for long periods of time, or without regular bathroom breaks.

Hearing and Eyesight

Other physical problems can also become dangerous for drivers. Hearing can deteriorate at an alarming rate when you get older, and the potential for an accident greatly increases if a person continues to drive without a hearing aid.

Failing eyesight can also cause problems. For example, cataracts can cause a person’s vision to become dangerously hazy or limited. It also makes the eye more sensitive to light and harder to spot other vehicles during fog or conditions when light is poor. Glaucoma also affects peripheral vision, making it more difficult to see vehicles or pedestrians approaching from the side.

Mental Deterioration

It’s not just the physical signs of getting older that drivers need to be aware of. As we get older, it can be harder to concentrate for long periods without getting distracted. As already mentioned, reaction times also tend to increase.

Older drivers often find themselves more indecisive, taking longer to make manoeuvres or decisions, than they did when they were younger.

Medical Conditions

Older drivers often suffer from existing medical conditions that can have an impact on how they drive and ultimately cause them to have to give up driving.

For example, the onset of arthritis can limit the ability of a driver to perform necessary driving tasks, such as looking over their shoulder or check their rear view mirrors.

Diabetes can cause damage to nerves in a person’s hands, feet and eyes. This can slow reaction times and limit vision. Also, should a person with diabetes suffer a drop in blood sugar levels, they may start to feel weak or dizzy, even potentially losing consciousness.

Other medical conditions such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's can cause a driver to lose physical control of their vehicle, or to become lost or confused enough to become a danger to other motorists.

Prescription Medication

Of course, many older drivers will be required to take prescription medication to cope with any one of a number of ailments. Unfortunately some of these, and over-the-counter medications, are known to cause drowsiness and could also drastically reduce reaction times.

As we grow older, we get more susceptible to the sedative nature of such medicines, even antihistamines and painkillers. Drivers who are taking such medicines should always read the label and make sure that they take medicines at times when the effect on their driving will be minimal.

Many older adults take one or more prescription medications. Prescription drugs and many over-the-counter medications can cause drowsiness or a slow reaction time, particularly when combined with other medications. As we age, we become more sensitive to these effects.

Sometimes, even relatively benign medication, such as antihistamines and painkillers, can cause drowsiness, especially for older users. Check the labels of these medications to get some idea of what each one may do.

Time to Retire Gracefully?

If after reading this article you are still unsure whether the time is right to give up driving, the following questions may help to make your mind up.

Have you recently been involved in any preventable accidents, or picked up fines for driving offences?

Have you been told by your passengers that your driving is unsafe?

Do you find when you drive that you are regularly overtaken or ‘beeped at’ by drivers behind you, either as a warning or as a criticism of your driving?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then it would be wise to consider putting your driving days behind you and entrusting someone else to take their turn at the wheel.

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