Bloomington / Normal, IL

Working with the community... for a healthier community.

Senior Safety Behind the Wheel


Submitted by Meadows at Mercy Creek

You may have asked yourself, “How long will I be able to safely drive a vehicle?” Getting older doesn’t make you a bad driver. But there are changes that may affect your driving skills over time.

Your health
Some health problems can make it more difficult for people of any age to drive safely. Other conditions that are more common as you get older such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and arthritis, can also interfere with your driving abilities. People with illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia may forget how to drive safely. They also may forget how to find a familiar place like the grocery store or even home. A person with dementia might not realize that they are having driving problems. Family and friends may be the ones to notice. Always tell a family member or your doctor if you become confused while driving. Doctors can help you decide whether it is safe to continue.

Your body
As you age, joints stiffen and muscles weaken, which can make it harder to turn your head to look back, turn the steering wheel quickly, or brake safely.

What you can do:

  • See your doctor if you think that pain or stiffness gets in the way of your driving.
  • Be physically active or exercise to keep your strength and flexibility.

Your vision
Your eyesight may change as you get older. At night, you may have trouble seeing things clearly. Glare can also be a problem — from oncoming headlights, streetlights, or the sun. It might be harder to see people, things, and movements outside your direct line of sight. It may take you longer to read street signs or traffic signs. Eye diseases such as glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration, as well as some medicines may also change your vision.

What you can do:

  • People age 65 or older should see an eye doctor every one to two years. There are many vision problems that your doctor can treat, and your doctor can advise you on how often to come back.
  • If you need glasses or contact lenses, make sure your prescription is kept up to date, and that you wear them whenever you are driving.
  • Consider driving in the daytime only if you are having trouble seeing in the dark.

Your hearing
As you age, your hearing may change, making it harder to notice horns, sirens, or noises from your own or another driver’s car. It is important to hear these sounds because they warn you when you may need to pull over or get out of the way.

What you can do:

  • Have your hearing checked every three years after age 50.
  • If recommended, get a hearing aid to help and don’t forget to use it while driving.
  • Try to keep the inside of the car as quiet as possible.
  • Pay attention to warning lights on the dashboard. They may let you know when something is wrong with your car.

Your reactions
In order to drive safely, you should be able to react quickly to other cars and people on the road. Over time, you may find that your reflexes are getting slower. Stiff joints or weak muscles can make it harder to move quickly. Your attention span may be shorter. Or, it might be harder for you to do two things at the same time.

What you can do:

  • Leave more space between you and the vehicle in front of you.
  • Start braking early when you need to stop.
  • Avoid high-traffic areas when you can.
  • If you must drive on a fast-moving highway, drive in the right-hand lane, where traffic moves slower and you will have more time to make safe driving decisions.
  • Be aware of how your body and mind might be changing, and talk to your doctor about any concerns.

Your medications
Medications can make you feel drowsy, light-headed, or less alert than usual, which may affect your driving.

What you can do:

  • Read the medicine labels carefully, and pay attention to any warnings.
  • Make a list of all your medications, and talk to a doctor or pharmacist about how they may affect your driving.
  • Don’t drive if you feel light-headed or drowsy.

When is it time to give up driving?
There is no way to set one age when everyone should stop driving. To help you decide if it is safe for you to continue driving, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do other drivers honk at me?
  • Have I had some accidents, even if they are only “fender benders”?
  • Do I get lost while driving?
  • Do cars or people walking seem to appear out of nowhere?
  • Am I driving less because I am not as sure about my driving skills as I used to be?
  • Do I have trouble staying in my lane?
  • Do I have trouble moving my foot between the gas and the brake pedals, or do I confuse the two?
  • Have family, friends, or my doctor said they are worried about my driving?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may be time to think about whether or not you are still a safe driver.

Meadows offers a full-range of senior living options — independent living, Independent Living — Plus!, assisted living, skilled nursing care, memory care, respite care, and Achieve! Wellness and Rehab Therapy — with two locations: Meadows Mennonite in Chenoa 309-747-3635 and Meadows at Mercy Creek in Normal 209-268-1501. To learn more about senior living options at Meadows, visit