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Tips for driving as you get older

Tips for driving as you get older


No one has yet found a way to turn back the clock and reverse the ageing process and one day we will all have to face the question – am I still fit to drive? Motoring journalist, John Swift, takes a look at some tips to help you behind the wheel.

Tips for driving safely into old age

As we age our eyesight deteriorates as do our reponse times. What can we do to make sure that we're still safe behind the wheel?

  • Stay physically active - stretching exercises will improve your monility behind the wheel
  • Have a sight test - check your eyesight is up to scratch by having an eye test
  • Drive a modern car - they are full of t=driver aids which will help make you a safer driver
  • Ditch your phone - never use your phonebehind the wheel, no matter what your age
  • Don't drive at rushour - if you're retired you have the luxury of driving at off-peak times of day, reducing stress
  • Go on a refresher course - faults and bad habits creep into our driving, let an expert help you correct them

Am I still safe to drive?

No one has yet found a way to turn back the clock and reverse the ageing process and one day we will all have to face the question – am I still fit to drive? With some of the more serious health conditions that decision is taken out of your hands and the authorities will say yes or no.

For the luckier ones it is up to you but you don’t have to make it on your own. There is plenty of help, advice and guidance out there so you can continue to have the freedom of personal transport and with that the ability to enjoy all those parts of your life that depend upon it.

 `Still safe at 70’ is a phrase you hear in relation to the question of whether drivers are more dangerous as they get older and their general health, eyesight, reactions and every other physical attribute gets a little weaker or slower.

There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that people under 80 years old are any greater or lesser risk than anyone else. If their reactions are a little slower it is offset by the slightly slower speed they generally drive at and if their eyesight is not quite so sharp as it once was they have the benefit of decades of experience to draw upon.

Still, the fact is that we do slow down mentally and physically and this is reflected in the law which says that once we hit 70 years old we must re-apply to the DVLA for a licence and state that we’re still safe behind the wheel and then do so again every three years. In other words, it’s self-certification, giving your word that you are OK to drive.

There are some conditions which the DVLA – and your insurer – must be informed of immediately, but these so-called `notifiable conditions’ apply at any age, not just in older drivers.

Common age-related conditions include weaker eyesight, any one of several neurological conditions; diabetes, a cardiac issue, restricted movement in a limb, blood pressure problems - either too high or too low – and more.  You should also consider the side-effects of any medication you may be taking and the impact that could have on your driving.

person taking an eye test

If you’re uncertain about any of these there are several avenues of help available. Your GP, pharmacist or optician is usually the first, but many local authorities or organisations, such as RoSPA, run assessment centres which can give you good advice on whether you’re still fit to drive.

A little word of warning. If you’re being treated for a serious condition and the health professional knows you’ve not informed the DVLA they can break patient/doctor confidentiality and tell the licensing authority themselves.

Many of us depend on having our personal mobility, we have a lifestyle where being able to go where and when we want is absolutely crucial and the idea of that being taken away if we put our hands up to having a medical condition is a frightening one. It is a very, very difficult decision to make and because the DVLA is content to accept our word that we are OK to drive it is inevitable that many people slip through the net who really should be medically assessed first.

The `Still safe at 70’ claims can hold true – but only so long as you’re still fit and well at 70.

We've covered the basic health fundamentals, but what about some tips for driving as you get older?

Here are just a few:

  • Stay physically active. If you begin to notice that it gets harder to turn your head at junctions or it becomes more of a problem to delicately ease the accelerator when parking in a tight spot, consider doing more exercise. Stretching is a good way to increase mobility and walking is another, make an effort to make it a regular routine.

Elderly people in an aerobics class

  • Get an eyesight test. So much of the information needed for safe driving comes to us visually and we must have good peripheral vision, long and short sight and night vision, be able to respond as we go from dark shade to bright sunlight and so on.
  • Unfortunately our eyes degenerate with age and as this is a gradual process you may not realise that you need help. If after an eye examination an expert recommends you drop or reduce night time driving, for example, do so, the advice could be doing you a big favour.
  • What are you driving? Lots of modern cars have superb automatic gearboxes and very good they are too at making driving easier and less tiring. If you’ve not been in a modern car you may be amazed at how much the technology in them can assist drivers.
  • Blind spot warning when pulling out into another lane, automatic braking, self-parking, brilliant sat nav and up to the minute traffic alerts, run-flat tyres that let you carry on after a puncture…the list of driver aids is very impressive in even fairly modest family cars.

Blind spot detection on a new car

  • One great advance has been in the clarity of dashboards and instrument displays. If you think there might be too many controls and you could easily be confused, just take a look at Peugeot’s brilliant i-Cockpit or something like the clear and uncluttered digital dashboards in the current Audi range.
  • Ditto for phones; nobody, regardless of age, should ever use a handheld mobile while driving and in even the most basic of today’s cars you don’t have to. Few inventions have such far reaching safety benefits as the hands-free capability of modern cars.
  • Avoid the traffic, avoid the stress. Why sit in rush hour traffic with commuters all in a race to get to work or the school drop-off. Leave half an hour later and get there feeling fresher.
  • Go on a refresher course. It’s not embarrassing or demeaning to have a driving assessment where an instructor can gently point out any bad habits or recommend new ways of doing things. They can be interesting, fun and a confidence boost. 

Here are some useful links.

Age UK Advice

Gov UK - Health Conditions and Driving