Physical changes

Physical changes in older drivers that may effect driving skills

A natural part of the aging process involves changes in sensory organs of the body. Look for changes in these areas:


Any change in your vision should be immediately checked out by an eye specialist. Many vision changes can be halted or compensated for if discovered early enough.

Peripheral vision

What you see out of the corner of your eyes can diminish as part of the natural aging process, or due to eye disease. Compensate for this problem by turning your head more often to observe traffic on both sides of your car or truck.

Depth perception

Your ability to judge distances may not be quite as good as it once was. To compensate for this, leave more room between your car and the car in front of you. Use a three second rule: when the vehicle in front of you passes an object, count slowly to three and see at the end of three seconds if you pass that same object. If you pass the object sooner than three seconds, you may be following the car in front of you too closely.

Night vision

Your ability to adjust to low light conditions and to recover from the glare from the headlights of other cars may diminish because your eyes may not be able to focus as quickly, or because of the effects of medication.

  • At the age of 45, you need four times as much light to drive as you needed when you were 19.

  • At the age of 55, you need eight times as long to recover from glare as when you were 16.

If nighttime driving is a problem, plan errands or events for the daytime, or get someone else to drive.


Fine detail such as the writing on road signs or the numbers on the speedometer may become more difficult to see. If you have trouble seeing the wording on road signs or details seem "fuzzy" a consultation with an eye specialist will often lead to a practical solution.

Hearing high frequency sound

The ability to hear sirens and horns is important, but may become more difficult as you get older. Modern cars with interiors well-isolated from road noise compound this situation. Lower the volume on the radio and check your mirrors more often to see if emergency vehicles are near.


Aging often affects your joints and muscles. Stiffness, pain, and loss of strength make driving more difficult, in addition to less enjoyable. You can improve your strength and flexibility by exercising regularly (follow your doctor’s recommendations). Also, devices such as power steering, larger mirrors, and automatic transmissions may make driving easier for you.

Reaction time

As you age, your ability to react quickly to changing conditions diminishes. Give yourself more time to react to other vehicles and road conditions.


Prescription drugs and medications sold over the counter, such as decongestants and cold remedies, may cause drowsiness, impair hand/eye coordination, and affect judgment. Be especially cautious when taking medicine for pain and arthritis. Alcohol often intensifies the effects of medication! Be sure to read all warning labels on the medication you take and ask your pharmacist or doctor about precautions to take before getting behind the wheel of a car.

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