Medical Conditions

That Can Affect Your Driving

In general older drivers tend to be cautious drivers.  Still, there are many health and medical conditions that can affect our ability to drive, especially as you age. 

Even though age shouldn’t be the only factor that determines whether or not a person can drive safely, it is important to understand that many age-related health and medical conditions can impact both our own and others’ safety when we drive.

Issues with vision, mobility, focus and mental sharpness become safety concerns as we age and drive.

1. Vision Problems

Reduced vision makes it difficult to to see and read when you drive, especially at night and in bad weather.

  1. Cataracts affect more than 20 million people over the age of 40.

Cataracts cause clouding in the lens of the eye and can result in blurry vision, double vision and difficulty seeing at night.

  1. Glaucoma affects more than 2.5 million people over 40.  It can destroy the optic nerve and result in blurred or foggy vision, loss of peripheral vision. This creates problems when driving, as the driver’s “side” vision is impaired.  Left untreated, glaucoma can result in blindness.

  1. Macular Degeneration affects nearly 2 million people over 40.  Macular degeneration is the deterioration the retina, which severely dulls a person’s vision.  This condition leads to hazy vision, blind spots in the center of the visual field and  extreme difficulty seeing in low light situations and environments.

(source CDC 2006)


2. Mobility Problems

A person’s ability to operate a vehicle without pain or difficulty is an essential part of safe driving.  Health or medical conditions that make it difficult to operate the car’s controls, adjust positions in the car, turn from side to side to check traffic, turn the steering wheel easily or react quickly to what is happening become safety hazards in many driving situations.  This is especially true when driving in  high-speed traffic, at 4-way intersections and whenever pedestrians are present.   

  1. Arthritis affects more than 45 million people in the U.S., and more than half of these people are 65 or older.   Arthritis in the hands, hips, knees, neck, and other areas can make it painful to use the seat belt, turn the key in the ignition, change gears, turn from side to side to check traffic, turn the steering wheel easily, operate the foot pedals or react quickly to what is happening become safety hazards in many driving situations.

  1. Every year more than U.S. 350,000 Seniors have hip or knee replacements.  Hip and knee problems - even after replacement - create problems for drivers getting in and out of the car, and also when operating the gas and brake pedals.

(source CDC 2006)


3. Focus and Mental Sharpness

Many health and medical conditions can affect a person’s focus and mental sharpness.  Two of the primary medical conditions associated with older adults that can also impact the ability driving safely are strokes and dementia.

  1. Nearly 1 million adults experience one or more strokes every year. A stroke is an interruption of blood supply to any part of the brain.  The results of a stroke can include muscle weakness or paralysis, loss of mental function (such as memory loss), partial or full vision loss, trouble recognizing once-familiar objects, loss of sensation and problems with balance, walking and other use or movement of the legs and arms.  The aftermath of a stroke can make driving not only difficult, but also unsafe.

  1.   Dementia affects more than 5 million people over the age of 65.

Dementia is a loss of brain function that affects memory, thinking, language, reasoning, judgment and behavior.Although it affects each person differently, dementia ultimately results in diminished mental capacity.

People with dementia may get confused and lost while driving.  They can also unknowingly create very unsafe driving situations for themselves and others by making improper turns, failing to signal, ignoring traffic signs and signals, going against the flow of traffic and other driving errors.

(source CDC 2006)


It takes more than an eye test at the DMV to make sure your eyes are healthy enough to drive safely. Get your eyes checked every year.

Mobility problems can impact your ability to drive safely as you age.  Be aware of health and medical conditions (like arthritis and hip or knee replacements) that make it difficult to drive; then find ways to make adjustments.

The effects of strokes and dementia compromise the healthy functioning of our bodies and minds.  Careful evaluation of a driver’s health helps make the roads safer for everyone.

Vision Problems

Impact Safe Driving

Mobility Problems

Impact Safe Driving

Mental (Brain) Health

Impacts Safe Driving

8 Warning Signs Of A Potentially Unsafe Driver

1. The driver doesn't observe signs, signals or other traffic

2. The driver needs help or instructions from passengers

3. The Driver is easily frustrated or confused

4. The driver frequently gets lost, even in familiar areas

5. The driver drives at inappropriate speeds  (too fast / too slow)

6. The driver exhibits poor road position or wide turns

7. The driver has had one or more recent accidents / close calls

   8. Family members or friends are uneasy about riding in the car when the person is driving


Senior Driver Courses

Safe driving refresher courses are offered in Senior Centers and recreation centers around the country. AARP’s Senior Driver Refresher Course is especially helpful.  They consist of 2 four-hour sessions that review current driving laws and  go over safe driving tips for older drivers.  The volunteers also teach older drivers about normal age-related physical changes and how they can develop safe driving habits to compensate for these changes.  Call your local Senior Centers to see if Senior Driver courses are offered in your area.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)

NTSB Safe driving publications help families and caregivers open up the discussion about older driver safety and mobility in their guide, How To Understand & Influence Older Drivers.

The NTSB booklet offers suggestions about having conversations with older drivers about safety concerns, and provides information that can help older drivers make informed decisions about their driving. 

You can access it online at the link below.

How To Understand & Influence Older Drivers

Resources To Help Improve Your Driving Skills

The American Medical Association (AMA)

The American Medical Association offers several publications designed to help Seniors, their families and physicians continue the safe driving conversation.

The AMA believes that the safety of older drivers is a public health issue. Motor vehicle injuries are a leading cause of injury-related deaths in the older population (persons 65 years and older). Per mile driven, the fatality rate for drivers 85 years and older is nine times higher than the rate for drivers 25 to 69 years old.  

  1. AMA Fact Sheet: Why Are Older Drivers At Risk?
    Older drivers have a higher risk of traffic fatalities for two main reasons. Read this informative fact sheet now.                                                

  1. AMA Physician's Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers
    The 2010 edition of this guide was developed by the AMA in cooperation with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Download the Physician’s Guide now.                                                                                        

  1. Download the AMA’s Am I A Safe Driver Checklist                                                             

There are warning signs that a person may be an unsafe driver.  Provides Free, Reliable Senior Information and Resources

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