How to Improve Driving Safety for Older Adults

Dr. Richard King

How to Improve Driving Safety for Older Adults

New York Physician, Richard King, M.D. of Family Practice Associates of Rockland, a division of Highland Medical, P.C., addresses Older Driver Safety Awareness Week with tips on what seniors can do to continue to be safe while driving. 

Some physical and mental changes that occur with age can affect a person's ability to drive. These include slower reaction times, night blindness, and pain and stiffness. Older Driver Safety Awareness Week (December 1-5) is a good time to evaluate a loved one's driving skills. In some cases, changes can be made to make driving easier. In others, it may be time to make the difficult decision to have the person give up driving and find other transportation options.

Here are some ideas to make driving easier for an older person:

  • If you find it painful to rotate your body to reach the seatbelt, attach a cloth loop to it so you can pull it on with only slight turning.
  • If your fingers are stiff from arthritis, leave a small tool in the car that you can use to depress the seatbelt latch.
  • If you are having trouble seeing at night, stick to daylight hours for driving.
  • Avoid the anxiety of driving in heavy traffic by planning your errands at times other than rush hour.

There are many ways to adapt a car to make it easier to drive for a person with limited movement. Many adaptive devices are available from AAA. For example:

Low-effort steering. The steering system can be modified to reduce the effort required to turn the steering wheel. This can be helpful for a person with arthritis in the shoulders and limited flexibility.

Handybar. This is a removable grab bar that hooks onto the door latch to give the driver something to hold on to when getting into and out of the car.

Add-on mirrors. These mirrors help broaden a person's peripheral vision and expand their field of view, so they don't have to turn their neck as much.

Swing-out seat. This replacement seat with a swivel base extends the seat beyond the car threshold so the driver doesn't have to maneuver around the steering column to get in and out.

One way to evaluate whether an older person's driving abilities are adequate is to assign a family member or friend to be a "driving advocate." This person will commit to ride with the older driver on a regular basis, and will tell them if they are exhibiting unsafe driving behavior. The advocate should wait to discuss their concerns until they are out of the car, and should be specific about what troubles them.

If the older person is unable to continue driving safely, there are several options for getting around. These include taxi services, volunteer driver programs, or public transit options; exchanging favors (such as accepting package deliveries) for rides from friends or family members; and shuttle buses run by malls, places of worship or grocery stores.