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Florida GrandDriver®

Know the Signs
What To Look For

It may not be obvious to an older person, family member or friend that a driver's physical capacity has changed. Some of the signs that an older driver needs assistance:

  • Neglects to buckle up
  • Has difficulty working the pedals
  • Has difficulty merging on highways, or turning onto busy streets
  • Has trouble seeing other vehicles, cyclists or pedestrians, especially at night
  • Ignores or "misses" stop signs and other traffic signals
  • Reacts slowly to sirens and flashing lights of emergency vehicles
  • Weaves, straddles lanes, drifts into other lanes or changes lanes without signaling
  • Gets lost or disoriented easily, even in familiar places
How to Help

It's not easy to think about aging, much less to talk about it. Bringing up the subject of safe driving may be awkward, but if you can talk now, you and your family can have a plan for the coming years. Here are some tips for making conversation easier:

  • Recognize that an older driver is not necessarily an unsafe driver. Decisions will be made based on the specific needs of the person and the situation.
  • Acknowledge that giving up (or even limiting) driving is a big deal - symbolically and practically - for most older drivers.
  • Emphasize that safety is most important.
  • Review specific transportation needs and develop a way to accommodate them.
  • Agree together on a plan of action. It may begin with avoiding risky driving situations, seeking education, rehabilitation or adaptive equipment and eventually lead to giving up the keys.

Physical Changes

Seeing: About 90 percent of the information required for driving safely relates to vision. Declining eyesight can affect critical driving functions such as reading signs, judging the speed of other vehicles, seeing cars and other objects not directly in front of the vehicle, and the time it takes to recover from the glare of oncoming headlights.

Acting: Some older adults respond more slowly to the information they see while driving in part due to reduced flexibility, weaker muscles and limited range of motion.

Cognitive Changes

Decision Making: Older drivers may process information and react more slowly than younger people. As a result, older drivers may drive more slowly to compensate.

Attention: As they age, drivers may feel overwhelmed by too much activity on the road, especially on busy highways or congested intersections. They may also have trouble remaining attentive and are easily distracted.

Perception: Older adults have more crashes at intersections than younger drivers. The collisions are the result of failure to yield the right of way, misunderstanding signs and signals and inaccurately judging speed.

Talk Now, Plan for Later

The key to getting around safe and sound now and in the future is to understand and evaluate the role driving plays in an older person's life. Yet few older adults discuss and plan how to meet transportation needs as life conditions change. Some guidelines:

Take an individual approach

Some people can continue to drive well into their later years; others can't. Consider each situation and address specific needs and wants as you address driving and transportation issues. Remember that driving is not just about getting to the doctor or buying groceries. For most people, driving is a key to staying connected to their lives in the community.

Communicate openly and respectfully

Most older drivers think of themselves as safe drivers. Adult children and other friends or caregivers should be positive and supportive while explaining their concerns. Base your concerns of several observations of the person's driving at different times of day and under different driving conditions. Listen to the honest concerns of the older driver as well. Together, talk about ways to adapt driving habits and plan for future transportation needs.

Plan early

The earlier you discuss the inevitable consequences of aging, the better you can make provisions for the future. At the same time you are planning with someone else, it is also a good time to talk with your spouse, partner and/or children to begin planning for yourself. Include discussions about transportation needs as your family plans for retirement - just as you would address finances, medical care and housing.


It's helpful to gain an objective assessment of driving abilities rather than relying on personal assumptions or misperceptions. Older adults can get feedback on their driving skills from a Driver Rehabilitation Specialist. Find a specialist at www.aota.org/olderdriver.


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