Safety Driving for Seniors

Safety Driving for Seniors
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Aging is a multidimensional process of physical, psychological, and social change. Some dimensions of ageing grow and expand over time, while others decline. Reaction time, for example, may slow with age, while knowledge of world events and wisdom may expand. Aging is an important part of all human societies reflecting the biological changes that occur, but also reflecting cultural and societal conventions. Roughly 100,000 people worldwide die each day of age-related causes.

Age is measured chronologically, and a person’s birthday is often an important event. Differences are sometimes made between populations of elderly people. Divisions are sometimes made between the young old (65–74), the middle old (75–84) and the oldest old (85+). However problematic this is, chronological age does not correlate perfectly with functional age, i.e. two people may be of the same age, but differ in their mental and physical capacities.

How Aging Affects Driving Safety

  • Reduced vision — especially at night.
  • Difficulty judging distance and speed.
  • Limited movement and range of motion.
  • Slower reaction time.
  • Difficulty focusing attention for long periods of time.
  • Easily distracted.
  • More time needed to understand what we see and hear.
  • More use of prescription and/or over-the-counter drugs that may impair your driving ability.

Knowing Yourself

We all have different abilities and skills as drivers. All drivers need to be aware of both their strengths and limitations in order to make good decisions (such as when and where to drive). The important thing is to know your own level of ability.

While we age at different rates, we all experience some changes in our bodies as we get older. While many of these changes do not have a dramatic impact on our daily lives in general, they can affect driving.

Did you know that drivers often must make 8 to 12 decisions every kilometre or half mile? Sometimes, you have less than half a second to make a decision.

This means that even small age-related changes can make a big difference in driving decisions. Knowing more about how aging affects driving is the first step in keeping you on the road longer.

The following section helps you to think about some of the most important physical changes (vision, hearing, movement and reaction time) that can affect driving ability as we get older.

Deciding When to Stop Driving: Warning Signs

  1. Increasing number of near collisions.
  2. Direct involvement in minor collisions.
  3. Difficulty seeing pedestrians, objects and other vehicles.
  4. Difficulty co-ordinating hand and foot movements.
  5. Increased nervousness when behind the wheel.

Staying mobile is important to the lifestyle of today’s seniors. Growing older doesn’t mean you have to give up driving. No one loses his or her driver’s licence solely because of age.

As we get older, we change. And while the years following the age of 50 can be wonderful, some of us become hard of hearing, others need corrective lenses, and our reflexes may slow down.

Drivers should learn to recognize individual changes and adjust their driving habits accordingly. This brochure outlines some warning signs that could lead to unsafe driving and suggests steps that can be taken to keep you and other road users safe while you’re behind the wheel.

Ontario’s roads are among the safest in North America so it’s important that every road user makes road safety a personal responsibility. If you’re a senior driver, you may benefit from taking a driving course to help you stay on the road as long as you can.

Road Safety. It starts with you.

The Effects of Getting Older


Your vision is tested when you renew your driver’s licence to make sure it meets driving standards. If you are having any of these problems, see your doctor.

Gradual changes in vision as we age may lead to problems:

  • Seeing less clearly (especially at night or at dusk and dawn)
  • Judging distance
  • Being more sensitive to glare (such as rain and light on the windshield)

Remember, you need to turn your head or body to check your blind spot and to see what is around you.

Medical conditions can also affect vision. By age 75, almost half of us will have early cataracts, and about one in four will have advanced cataract disease. Cataracts are like having a waterfall in front of your eyes, and can seriously affect your ability to drive. The good news is the problem can now be easily corrected.

Other eye disorders that can lead to reduced vision or even blindness are glaucoma and macular degeneration (loss of sharp central vision). Glaucoma, if detected early, can be effectively treated, in most cases. There are new and effective treatments for many people with macular degeneration. Regular eye exams can pick up these problems.


By age 65, one-third of us have some hearing loss. Gradual hearing loss increases with age. Medical problems (such as tinnitus or ringing in the ears and infections) can also impair hearing. Regular hearing exams can pick up these problems. The good news is that better hearing aids are being developed all the time. Hearing loss affects one’s ability to hear horns, sirens and brakes. You may also have to rely on your vision more to compensate for hearing loss.

Flexibility, Movement and Strength

As we age, we often have more stiffness and less range of movement in our neck, shoulders, arms and trunk. Flexibility affects our ability to:

  • Check your blind spot
  • Look for traffic and pedestrians at intersections
  • Merge with oncoming traffic
  • Yield the right of way, back up and park

Many people develop some arthritis with age. Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, affects the body’s joints causing swelling and pain. Rheumatoid arthritis is less common, but more painful. Both forms of arthritis can restrict movement. Osteoporosis (bone disease) also makes moving more difficult and painful.

Similar to flexibility or movement, strength also tends to decrease with age, especially if people are not physically active.

Arm strength is important for the safe control of your steering wheel, particularly when you have to make quick or sudden movements. Leg strength is important for pressing your acceleration and brake pedals, especially when quick actions are required.

The good news is flexibility, strength and reaction time can be improved with regular exercise.

Reaction Time and Concentration

With age, we may also experience gradual changes in:

  • Reaction or response time (slower)
  • Concentration (more easily distracted), and
  • Coordination (poorer)

Medical problems such as Parkinson’s and stroke can have substantial effects on reaction time, concentration and coordination.

When you have a choice, it is always a good idea to avoid traffic situations that are fast paced.

The Possible Effects of Drugs on Driving

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty concentrating and staying awake
  • Confusion
  • Memory lapses
  • Difficulty keeping a steady course (staying in the proper lane)

If you have any of these symptoms, you should not drive. Wait until you feel better, take a taxi or get someone to drive you. If you develop any of these side effects while driving, pull over and rest. Tell your doctor.

Certain drugs (such as tranquillizers, anti-depressants, sleeping pills and some pain pills) are most likely to cause the above symptoms and affect driving ability. Some antihistamines (for allergies and hay fever) as well as colds and flu remedies can also cause you to become drowsy.

Not only prescription medicines, but products you can buy off the shelf (like “natural” or “herbal” remedies), can have side effects. These over-the-counter drugs can also interact with, or change, the effects of any prescription drugs you are taking.

Always carefully read the warning labels! If you are not sure, ask the pharmacist.

Older Adults Need to be Very Careful. Why?

  • Older adults tend to take more drugs
  • The risk of side effects and interactions increase with the number of drugs taken
  • With age, our bodies react differently. It takes longer for the body to break down or get rid of a drug
  • This is also true of alcohol. While people tend to drink less alcohol as they get older, it takes fewer drinks to impair our driving. Alcohol, mixed with certain drugs, can be very dangerous
  • Other factors, such as medical problems, can alter the body’s response to alcohol and certain drugs

Discuss the possible effects of each medication you are taking (both prescription and non-prescription) with your doctor. Ask if the drug can have any possible effects on your driving.

Good Practices to Maintain Driving Fitness

As we grow older we may need to pay closer attention to what is going on around us. Neck and trunk flexibility may make it harder to see things around us. In order to maintain fitness for driving, it is important to:

  • Have regular medical, eye and hearing check-ups
  • Care for our bodies (eat well, get enough sleep)
  • Stay physically active
  • Stay mentally active
  • Be aware of the effects of drugs and alcohol

Regular check-ups, including review of medications, are necessary to catch and treat any medical problems. Good nutrition, getting enough sleep and staying mentally active (reading, doing crossword puzzles or playing cards) also helps us concentrate while driving.

Regular exercise will increase your flexibility, strength, balance and coordination. It will help you prevent falls and drive better!

The good news is that it is never too late to begin exercising and you will notice an immediate difference in how you feel.

Night Vision and Glare

Reduced night vision can make it more difficult to read road signs and see people walking or riding bikes.

  • Do you find it hard to see driving at night?
  • Does glare from the sun or lights of other cars bother you?
  • Do you need to slow down to read unfamiliar road signs?


  • Avoid night driving
  • If you need to drive at night, allow 5 minutes for your eyes to adjust
  • Avoid glare by looking to the right-hand side of the road rather than directly at the oncoming traffic
  • Drive on well lit roads where possible
  • Get regular eye examinations
  • Keep your windshield, inside of windows and car lights clean
  • Wear quality sun glasses
  • Turn headlights on 30 minutes before sunset
  • Always wear your latest prescription glasses. Don’t wear old glasses or someone else’s

Side Vision and Flexibility

As we grow older, we may need to pay closer attention to what is going on around us. Neck and trunk flexibility may make it harder to see things around us.

  • Do you find it hard to turn to check your blind spot?
  • Are you sometimes surprised by cars that appear beside you?
  • Do you sometimes not notice people walking or riding on bikes at intersections?


  • Do regular flexibility exercises
  • Look for things happening to both sides of your car and well up the road
  • Check mirrors regularly. Reduce your left side blind spot by adjusting your side mirrors. First, lean your head against the window, adjust your mirror outward so that when you look at the inside edge you can barely see the side of your car. If you use a wide-angle mirror, practice before using it in traffic
  • Don’t drive in other car’s blind spot
  • Always check before backing up
  • Watch for people walking at intersections. Remember that they have the right of way. Pay attention to signs including at crosswalks and school zones.
  • Avoid backing out of parking spaces if possible
  • Park your car so that you can exit going forward

Judging and Reacting

Difficulty judging distance and slower reaction times can make it harder to deal with fast moving traffic.

  • Do you find it hard to pull out in heavy traffic?
  • Do you find it hard to judge the distance and speed of other cars?
  • Do you find things happen too quickly for you to make good driving decisions?


  • Keep a buffer of space around your car
  • Stay 3 seconds of travelling time behind the car in front of you
  • Slow down for bad weather or road conditions
  • Brake smoothly and gradually
  • Make sure that your front tires are pointed straight ahead while waiting to make a left turn
  • Make 3 right turns rather than making a left
  • Pre-plan your trip
  • Check your rear view mirror when braking
  • Stay mentally active (e.g., puzzles or crosswords)
  • Avoid driving in bad weather
  • Avoid heavy traffic and highway driving
  • Drive at the speed limit, driving too slow is unsafe
  • Switch to a road with a lower speed limit
  • Drive in the right lane wherever possible
  • Signal your intentions well in advance
  • Check your mirrors often


Short lapses in attention can lead to missing important information like lights, stop signs and traffic conditions.

  • Do you get lost while driving?
  • Do you sometimes change lanes or merge without looking?
  • Do you tend to drive much faster or slower than other traffic?
  • Are you distracted or does your attention wander while driving?


  • Do not let passengers, the radio or cell phone distract you
  • Plan your driving for mid-morning when you are most rested, traffic is lighter and glare is less
  • Plan so that you need to make fewer trips
  • Avoid busy streets
  • Take frequent breaks, stop for stretching and walking exercise
  • Let someone else drive when you are tired or stop for a rest
  • Avoid driving on less familiar roads
  • When backing up ensure that you are in the correct gear and that your foot is on the correct pedal
  • Do not drive when upset
  • Do not drive in situations that make you nervous
  • Always check your mirror and look over your shoulder before changing lanes or merging

Other Useful Tips

During the class discussion, your group may have come up with other tips. Write down those you feel are most useful. It is important to keep this Personal Action Plan for safe driving up-to-date. As you get older, you will experience more changes. You need to continue to be aware of what you can do to help yourself drive safely. The more difficulties that apply to you, the more important it is that you take a good look at your driving and consider talking with your doctor, family and friends. It is up to all drivers to make changes to improve their driving.

Strengths of Older Drivers

  • Judgment – The best judgment comes with experience. History is full of leaders that made their best contributions later in life. Many current world leaders are in their 60s and older.
  • Experience – Seniors have a wealth of experience. By the time we reach 80, most of us have been driving for years, on all kinds of roads and in all kinds of situations.
  • Vitality – Seniors are now living longer, healthier and more active lives.
  • Responsible – As a group, seniors are quite responsible. Seniors have a low rate of drinking and driving.
  • Ability to Adapt – Seniors have shown they can adapt to the many changes that have occurred in roads and motor vehicles over the years. Many seniors also make changes in their driving habits, example; choosing not to drive at night, in bad weather or in heavy traffic. This ability to adapt is very important as we experience the effects of getting older.

High Risk Situations

Young drivers have the highest number of collisions. Seniors aged 80 and over have the second highest rate based on amount of driving.

Because seniors are more fragile, they are more likely to be injured or die as the result of a motor vehicle collision.

Seniors also tend to be more involved in certain types of collisions. By being aware, you can develop strategies for avoiding or dealing with these situations.

Areas of special concern include:

  • Backing up
  • Intersections
  • Turning (particularly left turns)
  • Yielding (right-of-way)
  • Following distance
  • Entering and exiting roadways, merging
  • Maintaining lane position and speed
  • Reading road signs
  • Paying attention to traffic lights and stop signs
  • Responding to fast paced situations

While driving can be challenging at times, the good news is that there is a lot that you can do to ensure your own safety and the safety of others while still enjoying the benefits of driving. In addition to the tips already covered, knowing the rules of the road is key to driving safety.

The examples below are taken from the Official Driver’s Handbook published by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. This is the handbook that you studied to take your written test.

Backing Up

When backing up (or into a parking space) remember to:

  • Move slowly
  • Make sure that you are using the correct gear and foot pedal
  • Check the way is clear. Always look for pedestrians or cyclists
  • If going straight back or to your right, turn your body and head to the right and look back
  • If backing to the left, turn and look over your left shoulder
  • Always check the opposite shoulder
  • If you are turning as you back up, check to make sure that the front of your car has lots of room and will not hit anything


Slow down as you approach. Look for traffic, yield signs, stop signs, traffic lights, cyclists and pedestrians.

There are two main types of intersections: controlled and uncontrolled. Controlled intersections have traffic lights, yield signs or stop signs. On a green light, drive through the intersection at a steady speed. If the light has been green for some time, be prepared to stop. If the road ahead of the intersection is blocked with traffic, remember to stop before entering the intersection so that you will not block traffic if the light changes.

At uncontrolled intersections all cars must stop. If two cars approach the intersection at the same time, the car to the right goes first.

Right Turns

The proper way to make a right turn includes:

  • Start and end in the right hand lane
  • Signal well in advance
  • Look ahead, then left and right
  • Then look to the left again
  • Check your right side blind spot
  • Make the turn

Left Turns

The proper way to make a left turn includes:

  • Signal well in advance
  • Move into the left-hand lane, when clear
  • Look ahead, left, right and left again
  • Check your blind spot
  • Make the turn when the way is clear
  • If making the turn from a stop, keep your wheels pointed straight until ready to make the turn
  • When the turn is complete, move back into the right lane when it is safe to do so

Keep in mind that you can sometimes make three right turns (going around the block in the same direction) rather than a left turn.

Following Distance

The “2 second rule” helps you determine a safe following distance in ideal driving conditions. Due to slower reaction time, older drivers should use the “3 second rule”.

  • Pick a marker on the road ahead, such as a road sign or telephone pole
  • When the rear of the vehicle ahead passes the marker, count “one thousand and one, one thousand and two and one thousand and three”
  • When the front of your car reaches the marker, stop counting

If you reach the marker before you count to “one thousand and three,” you are following too closely. In poorer weather or road conditions, allow more time (distance) for safe stopping.

Merging Into Traffic

The correct way to merge into traffic includes:

  • Check your blind spot when you are on the entrance ramp
  • As you enter the acceleration lane, signal, increase your speed to match the speed of the other vehicles
  • Merge smoothly

If you find freeways stressful and the speed too fast, use less busy streets with lower speeds to get where you want to go. Plan ahead.



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