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from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

Diseases & Conditions



Staying Healthy

Safety Guide for Mature Drivers

If you have been driving for quite a few years, you bring a wealth of experience and expertise to the task. Certain changes that can occur in the aging process, however, could affect your driving skills.

Fortunately, there are techniques to help you maximize your driving ability and minimize your injury risk. If you have noticed that it now takes longer to respond to situations while you drive, ask someone you trust to accompany you on a driving trip and monitor how well you drive.

Traffic situations on today's highways, roads, and streets present many challenges, but vehicle crashes can be prevented.

Understand Your Medications

  • Know how medications affect your ability to drive. Some medications slow reaction time, diminish concentration, blur vision, or hamper mobility.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist if any prescription or over-the-counter medicine that you are taking could interfere with your ability to drive.

Driving Safely Requires Your Full Attention

Reduce Noise

  • Limit conversation to only what is necessary.
  • Keep the radio off or the volume low.

Reduce Distractions

  • Focus on the traffic ahead, behind, and next to you. Do not let the scenery divert your attention from the road.
  • Avoid driving a car that has tinted windshields.
  • Avoid using a cell phone, personal digital assistant, or mp3 player when driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 600,000 drivers used a hand-held cell phone at some point during their trip on any given day.
  • Never text and drive. According to the NHTSA, texting while driving makes a crash much more likely to happen.

To learn more about the dangers of distracted driving, visit the AAOS public service campaign:  Decide to Drive.

Safe Driving Tips

  • Avoid busy streets, roads, and intersections.
  • Alter your route to avoid turning left. (Studies show many accidents involving older people occur when they make a left turn.)
  • Avoid driving during rush hour, if possible.
  • Avoid traveling during heavy rainstorms or when there is snow or ice on the roads.
  • Drive shorter distances.
  • Drive during daylight hours only. Try to avoid traveling in the direction of the sun as it sets or rises. The intensity of the sun can be very stressful on the eyes.
  • Compensate for any loss of strength or flexibility by driving a car with power steering, power brakes, automatic transmission, and adjustable seats and steering wheel. In more severe cases, special devices can be added to a vehicle to assist with many driving functions.
  • Do not slouch or hunch forward while driving. Hard car seats provide more support for your back. Adjust the driver's seat so your shoulders are parallel to the top of the steering wheel.

Observe the Rules of the Road

  • Drive at the posted speed limit or stay in the right lane if you are driving slower. If you feel that cars are going too fast, switch to a different route.
  • Drive defensively and yield the right-of-way.

The American Association of Retired Persons recommends that, under good weather conditions, you leave enough space between you and the car ahead of you so that it takes three seconds to reach what that driver just passed. In bad weather, extend that to five seconds.

Traffic regulations sometimes change. Contact your state department of motor vehicles and request the latest rules of the road. You may wish to take a driver's education "refresher" course. Organizations offer classes in many cities to update the mature driver. Contact your local AAA club for the AAA's "Safe Driving for Mature Operators" course.

See the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) "55 Alive/Driver Safety Program."

Call 1-800-621-6244 to ask about the National Safety Council's Defensive Driving Course for the mature driver.

Stay Healthy

Your coordination, flexibility, and reaction time — important skills for driving — depend on your physical and mental condition. You should have thorough examinations every year and alert your doctors if there have been any changes in your health.

Your vision provides 85 to 90 percent of the information needed to drive. Your driving ability can be affected by cataracts, glaucoma, or other visual changes. Other aging or medical conditions that could affect your driving performance include ankle rigidity, wrist pain or weakness, and knee or hip pain or decreased range of motion.

If you are being treated for a medical condition, talk to your doctor about the advisability of driving.

  • Do not permit smoking in your car. Smoke may aggravate your congestion and interfere with your night vision.
  • Do not drive when you are tired.
  • If you need eyeglasses to drive, wear them each time you take a trip, even if it is only a short distance.
  • Proper nutrition, exercise, adequate rest, and stress management will help you maintain your driving skills. Be sure to drink adequate amounts of water.

Long Trips

  • Prepare in advance for long trips. Plan your route on a map, noting exits, landmarks, expected mileage, etc.
  • Get enough rest the night before you leave.
  • Pace yourself. Take a break after every 1 1/2 - 2 hours of driving. Get out of the car and stretch.
  • Carry bottled water and a first aid kit in the car.
  • Clean your vehicle's headlights, taillights, windshield (inside and out), and rear window on a regular basis.
  • Keep your vehicle in good operating condition.

Source: American Association of Retired Persons; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA); National Safety Council

Last Reviewed

June 2017

AAOS does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products, or physicians referenced herein. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific orthopaedic advice or assistance should consult his or her orthopaedic surgeon, or locate one in your area through the AAOS Find an Orthopaedist program on this website.