The impact of aging on driving
Functional decline related to aging does not affect all drivers at the same rate or in the same way. Although specific abilities needed to drive safely - such as vision, memory, physical strength, reaction time, and flexibility - decline as people age, the rate of change varies greatly across the older adult population.
The NHTSA Web site on older driver traffic safety provides links to information for older drivers on driving with several health related issues such as: arthritis, diabetes, and cataracts, current older road user research, and resources such as the publication "Driving Safely While Aging Gracefully". This information can be found on NHTSA's Web site at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov or click here.
The chart shows how aging affects various skills necessary for safe driving
Effect on Driving
|Vision||Near and far vision, depth perception, visual attention, peripheral vision, light and dark sensitivity, and the affect of glare||
|Cognition||Memory, attention, recognition, speed of decisions, and judgment||
|Physical Function||Strength, flexibility, reaction time||
Vision is the primary sense used in driving. Visual declines represent the most significant losses for older drivers who need more light to distinguish features along the roadway and must be closer to read signs and follow other traffic cues. Older eyes also need more time to recover from the glare of bright headlights at night.
All Iowa drivers in the process of renewing their driver license are required to pass a vision test. This screening is to make sure you have at least 20/40 vision in at least one eye, with or without corrective lenses. This test may be administered at a driver license office or you may have your doctor check your vision (must be within 30 days of your license application).
Because it is so important to safe driving that you see well, you should have your eyes checked every year or two by an eye specialist. You may never know you have poor vision unless your eyes are tested.
If you need to wear glasses or contact lenses for driving, remember to:
- Always wear them when you drive, even if you are only going a short distance. If your driver’s license says you must wear corrective lenses and you do not, you could get a ticket if you are stopped by a law enforcement officer.
- Try to keep an extra pair of glasses in your vehicle. Then if your regular glasses get broken or lost, you can drive safely. This also can be helpful if you do not wear glasses all the time and you forget to take them with you when driving.
- Do not wear dark glasses or tinted contact lenses at night, even if it is to help with glare. The problem is that they shut out too much light, light you need to see clearly.
Cognition involves perception, attention, learning, memory, thought, visual processing, reading, and problem solving. Driving is a complex activity that requires a number of these skills. Drivers must remember how to operate their vehicle, what the signs and signals mean, to know their destination and how to get there all of which occurs while processing other information.
The MindAlert Web site includes information on mental fitness and aging. It offers articles on key issues, bibliographic listings, reviews of other materials, and links to Web sites and information about mental fitness programs. This clearinghouse will be useful to both consumers (older adults and family members) and professionals as they seek the latest information and practice on maintaining and improving cognitive capacity in the later years of life. To learn more about this MindAlert, click here or visit the resource center at http://www.asaging.org.
According to NHTSA, dementia affects a number of critical abilities needed for safe driving, including perception and visual processing, an ability to maintain attention and respond to multiple stimuli, an ability to make correct decisions, and to act appropriately in difficult traffic situations. Individuals in the early stage of the disease may be able to operate a vehicle under normal circumstances, but have difficulty with changing circumstances and may often become lost. To obtain a copy of NHTSA's brochure Driving and Alzheimer's, click here or visit NHTSA's Web site at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov. The Hartford Insurance Co. has information to help families start the conversation about Alzheimer’s. To learn more, click here or visit the Hartford "We Need to Talk" Web site at http://www.thehartford.com/talkwitholderdrivers/.
As a person ages, there is also a decline in muscle mass and bone strength making mature drivers at greater risk of a serious injury or death in the event of a crash. According to the research, drivers 65 and older have 4 times the odds of sustaining serious injuries compared to drivers younger than 24 years old.