Keeping Older Drivers on the Road: Limiting Driving

Helping an older adult find her driving limits

You may worry that the person you're caring for isn't driving as well as she used to. But naturally, she'd prefer not to give up driving altogether. Depending on her physical and mental capacities, if she limits it to certain times of day, conditions, or geographic areas, she may be able to stay safely on the road.

Many older drivers self-regulate as they age -- they stop driving at night, or they don't go for long distances. They know their vision isn't what it used to be or that their reflexes have slowed. But if your friend or relative doesn't recognize her limitations, you'll have to step in and help set some boundaries.

Talk about limiting driving. If she has driving problems, talk with her about the conditions that give her trouble. Is she OK on surface streets but panicky on the freeway? Try to get her to brainstorm with you about how to limit her driving to the situations she does well in. (Of course, if she poses a hazard to herself or others any time she's behind the wheel, then giving up driving is the only answer.)

Make a written plan. In her book The Driving Dilemma, expert Elizabeth Dugan includes a "Limited Driving Plan Form," an informal agreement that lists the driving limits the older driver agrees to comply with. While the form isn't binding, it can help reinforce the seriousness of the issue.

The plan will include the restrictions you and she decide on (and you might have to play the tough cop: If she loves to go to the local bingo game at night but has poor night vision, you'll have to convince her to get a ride to bingo and put "no night driving" on the list).

Restricted driver's licenses. For some older drivers, limiting driving isn't a matter of choice but a condition for driving at all. Many state DMVs require drivers to limit driving by issuing a restricted driver's license. An older driver will be given this type of license if she comes in for a driver's license renewal exam (or if she is reported to the DMV as a possible driving hazard by a relative, physician, police officer, or other observer) and the examiner concludes that she can continue driving, but only under certain conditions.

Restrictions vary from state to state and can include:

  • No nighttime driving.
  • No driving during rush hour.
  • No driving on the freeway.
  • Driving only with extra mirrors or other adaptive devices.
  • Driving only in prescribed areas or on specific routes.
  • Driving with a hearing aid only.

To find out more about the driving regulations in your state, see State-by-State Driving Laws for the Elderly.