Your Driving

Does my age affect my ability to drive?

Not necessarily. There are no set rules as to when a person may need to give up their driver license. What is important is your ability to continue to drive safely. Two of the most important abilities for safe driving are

  • to see hazards clearly, and
  • to respond quickly to changes in highway and traffic conditions

These abilities may or may not decline as a person gets older.

How can I continue to drive safely for as long as possible?

Test yourself.
Test your abilities on a regular basis so you can make any needed changes to continue as a safe driver.

Look for warning signs. Be alert for any signs of a decrease in driver abilities and skills. Be concerned if you:

  • have a number of minor accidents or "near misses"
  • cannot concentrate or you have thoughts that wander
  • cannot easily read standard road signs
  • become lost or confused on roads you know
  • notice other drivers often sound their car horns at you
  • hear concern from family, friends or police about your driving

Seek solutions. If you notice signs of decreased driver abilities, determine if medical help or professional instruction can improve your driving abilities and skills. You can enroll in a course for drivers age 55 and older. The courses cover a number of topics of special interest to older drivers. The topics include health and driver performance, the effects of medications, and how a driver can manage vision and hearing problems. Contact your car insurance company to determine if the company offers discounts for a driver who completes an older driver class.

Make the right decision. The decision to continue or to stop driving is an important decision. Remember, you are responsible not only for your own safety. You must consider the safety of your passengers, other drivers, pedestrians and motorcycle and bicycle riders. When you consider whether or not to stop driving, you will want to learn about other methods of transportation.

If you cannot continue to drive safely or you decide to stop driving you can exchange your valid driver license for a non-driver photo ID card (NDID).Your NDID provides the same secure proof of identification as a photo driver license.

Do changes related to age affect driver ability?

Physical and mental abilities can decrease as a person gets older, but there are large differences in when changes occur and how big the changes are. The age of a person alone cannot determine driving ability, but be aware that

  • problems can be easier to notice during stressful or difficult driving conditions (for example, problems may be noticed when you must merge into traffic or change lanes)
  • several studies have shown that physical and mental problems among older drivers are linked to increased risk of involvement in a crash

Many older drivers also take medications (even over-the-counter), which can impair driver ability. Medicines can affect the abilities of a driver at any age, but drugs can be a special problem for older drivers who more often must take medicines.

Can driver education help older drivers?

The answer is difficult to determine. Studies must separate the effects of the course from the effects that result from the abilities and attitudes of drivers who take the courses. Even without exact study results, it is reasonable to conclude that continued driver education has value. In New York State, the safety benefits of courses are supplemented by a 10% discount on automobile insurance premiums.

Several organizations have safety courses for older drivers. National programs include

  • the Driver Safety Program of the American Association of Retired Persons
  • Safe Driving for Mature Operators from the American Automobile Association
  • Coaching the Mature Driver from the National Safety Council

How can new vehicle technology improve safety for older drivers?

New vehicle technologies that can help protect drivers and passengers in crashes include

  • seat belt force limiters that control the force of seat belts during a crash
  • advanced airbags that reduce possible injuries from when an airbag activates
  • improved head restraint systems that help to protect against whiplash and other neck injuries
  • electronic stability control (ESC). These systems increase vehicle stability and decrease the risk of deaths in crashes that involve only one vehicle
  • adjustable pedals and seat adjusters, larger and brighter displays and controls, and other features in some vehicles that can be helpful to older drivers

Other systems that can help prevent crashes include

  • a cruise control system that can help maintain your vehicle a set distance from the vehicle ahead
  • systems that warn the driver if the car begins to move toward another lane

These new technologies may help to prevent crashes, but remember that technology is only a tool, not a guarantee.