Michigan Association of Health Plans

Senior driving safety: when is it time to put down the keys?

This story appeared in Bankrate’s blog. Read more here

Older individuals often find themselves dealing with more health issues, including physical and mental ones, which may prevent them from driving to the best of their ability. Health issues may range from stiff joints and aching muscles to slower reflexes and symptoms of dementia. These ailments might be a natural part of aging and somewhat expected, but they can also make driving more of a challenge.

While aging is a natural part of life, it does not make the conversation any easier when we need to tell the ones we care about that it might be time to put away the keys. Having this conversation is tough, but it is in the best interest of the individual’s safety. Drivers who are 65 and older are 16% more likely to cause an accident compared to adults aged 25 to 64. There is no designated time frame for when you should tell someone they should stop driving for the sake of their safety and others, which means recognizing the right time is often left to the caregivers or loved ones. Knowing the signs and understanding how to start the conversation can go a long way.

Health issues that impact driving ability

Seniors may face health issues that impact their ability to drive safely. Although not an exhaustive list, the health problems an older person might encounter could include the following.

Bad vision

Vision problems can stem from multiple causes, such as glaucoma, cataracts or macular degeneration. Bad vision limits a driver from seeing signs clearly or recognizing their location. Seeing an eye doctor each year is critical to monitoring changes in vision.

Limited neck mobility

Whether it is due to sore muscles or part of the aging process, limited neck mobility can affect senior drivers in various ways. When a driver is unable to turn their head properly, it can lead to limited field of vision and a greater likelihood of not seeing another driver in their blind spots.

Brain damage from a stroke

Strokes can cause long-term brain damage, including severe lack of coordination. Driving after a stroke is possible, but is only advised once it has been cleared by a physician. Some states may even require a note from the physician with a medical clearance to drive. As 75% of strokes occur in older populations, the cognitive effects may have a greater impact on seniors’ driving capabilities than many people realize.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease

Seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s are particularly vulnerable to having difficulty driving, especially since their ability to make decisions is heavily impacted. Dementia can be caused by Alzheimer’s or other factors and occurs in up to 7% of people age 60 and older. Warning signs usually include an individual forgetting where they are going or how to get home. However, they may not realize their ability to react quickly and reliably while driving can also be compromised.


Stiff joints, including arthritis pain, can make it more difficult to turn your head as needed, shift gears or perform other driving functions. Over 49% of people in the U.S. aged 65 and older have been diagnosed with arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Drivers may find it helpful to choose cars with automatic transmission and large mirrors to make driving with arthritis a little easier.

In addition to common health issues, older people tend to use more prescription drugs, which can have side effects like drowsiness, blurred vision and confusion and have negative impacts on driving. Recognizing these concerns, many states also require additional information from senior-aged drivers, such as visual tests and in-person license renewals. In Georgia, for example, anyone aged 64 or older must pass an additional eye exam with each renewal and must renew every five years, versus every eight years for younger drivers.

Driving stats for seniors

  • Over 700 older adult drivers are injured in car accidents each day and more than 20 are killed in car accidents.
  • There are more than 30 million licensed drivers on the road who are 70 or older..
  • Drivers aged 65-69 have the lowest number of auto insurance property damage claims, but the number of claims begins to increase at age 70.
  • Drivers aged 75 and older have higher death rates from accidents versus middle-aged drivers, according to the CDC.
  • Across all ages, including the senior population, male drivers are more likely to die in a car accident than female drivers.
  • Failure to yield the right-of-way is one of the most common causes for fatal accidents among senior drivers.
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