Helpful tips for older drivers

Regardless of how experienced you may be as a driver, there may come a point where driving starts to become more difficult.

Whether it’s because of problems with the controls working or simply because you’ve lost your confidence, this guide provides a series of useful tips to help you continue driving comfortably and safely for as long as possible.

Check that the car is suitable for the driver

If you or someone you know is having difficulty driving, it may simply be that the car is not suitable. There can be several reasons for this; For example, someone with arm pain or weakness may find it much easier to drive an automatic car or one with lighter power steering.

Some issues could be resolved by making minor adaptations to the existing car, such as fitting auxiliary mirrors to aid panoramic vision or parking sensors. Even subtle adjustments to the driver’s seat and its height can provide a better, more comfortable driving position or easier access.

helpful tips for older drivers

If adaptations are not possible or sufficient, drivers may want to consider upgrading to a different model, perhaps one that is smaller and easier to maneuver or one that provides a better driving position and better view of the road. Of course, this might involve a degree of additional cost, but it could prove to be a worthwhile investment in staying mobile, as having the right car can sometimes make a world of difference.

For more tips on choosing the right vehicle for you (new or used), head over to our guide at how to buy the best car.

Vehicle Adaptations That Can Help

More complex and specific adaptations can be made, including the installation of hand controls for use in place of pedals, specially shaped pedals, ‘turns’ to reduce the effort required to turn the steering wheel, rudder or joystick steering, and elevators and seat lifters. for easy access in and out of the car.

You can find a detailed guide to these and the providers and installers in the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers (RiDC). RiDC is a charity specializing in consumer research for the elderly and disabled. Their website has some excellent guides – there are pages on choosing and finding the right car, as well as information on the range of options available to retrofit an existing car.

helpful tips for older drivers

Drivers considering adaptations to their car, or purchasing a car specific to their needs, should have an evaluation at a Driving Mobility center. These are separate, but recognized by both the DVLA and the Motability scheme, through which disabled people can use their higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or the enhanced rate mobility component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) to rent a new car, scooter, or electric wheelchair.

The Blue Badge Outline

helpful tips for older drivers

This scheme for disabled drivers or drivers with permanent limited mobility offers concessions that include free parking in selected areas.

satellite navigation

Trying to navigate new or unfamiliar places can be a challenging experience, and the more tech-savvy can benefit from using satellite navigation: turn-by-turn voice commands and/or dashboard displays to guide you to your destination.

Many new cars come with this installed as standard, but devices are available to add to the car. Read our guide on best sat navs for more information.

Navigation apps can also be downloaded for use on smartphones, suitable for in-car use if the phone is held in a dash-mounted cradle.

Driving evaluations

Through a Driving Mobility center, seniors can get information, advice and a driving evaluation related to medical conditions, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, or to return to driving after an illness, injury or accident. Organizations and charities, including the Queen Elizabeth Foundation for Disabled People, also offer driver assessments, advice and training.

Few drivers of any age can say that they have never had reason to question their confidence; even the most confident driver could benefit from taking an occasional refresher course. It’s surprisingly easy to fall into bad habits or forget some of the key things we learned when we got our license. A few hours with a good driving instructor can be the fastest way to regain some confidence and brush up on important skills.

helpful tips for older drivers

None of these refresher courses will result in a driver ‘passing’ or ‘failing’. They are simply there to provide additional training and support, but they can be an invaluable first step in assessing whether someone is safe behind the wheel.

Medical conditions that may affect safe driving

Some of the more common age-related medical conditions that could affect safe driving are listed below. Drivers have a legal responsibility to report to the DVLA if they have certain health conditions, including vision problems that may affect their driving (and could invalidate their car insurance). You can find a complete list of these conditions in the gov.uk website.

In Northern Ireland, the rules on medical conditions may differ slightly. For more information, see the website nidirect.gov.uk.

Arthritis

Arthritis affects the joints, making them swollen, stiff, and painful. It can occur in different joints of the body, most commonly in the hands, feet, back, hips, and knees. Arthritic joints will have limited movement, which can present challenges in various aspects of driving (see helpful tips for older drivers).

helpful tips for older drivers

Alzheimer’s and dementia

Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia affect the way the brain works and can cause forgetfulness and disorientation. An additional danger is that people with Alzheimer’s are often unaware of their own condition; therefore, they may believe that they are perfectly safe to drive, when in fact they could be putting themselves (and others) at great risk.

Diabetes

Although in many cases diabetes can be controlled, people with diabetes may experience episodes of drowsiness, dizziness, and confusion. In some cases, diabetes can also cause seizures or loss of consciousness.

helpful tips for older drivers

Parkinson’s

There are many symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, and the extent and severity of these will vary from person to person. ‘Motor’ symptoms, which often affect movement, are relatively common and can include tremors, slowness of movement and stiffness, any of which could make it difficult to react quickly and effectively when driving.

Race

The effects of stroke can vary widely, from vision and memory problems to partial paralysis. It is also sometimes the case that people recovering from a stroke do not realize the full extent of their condition and the associated limitations.

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