If your senior loved one is one of the many older adults choosing to continue driving, you’ve probably wondered whether or not it’s safe. While driving can help older adults stay mobile, independent, and connected to their loved ones and their communities, getting older can make driving riskier.

According to the National Institute on Aging, normal changes that come with aging like reduced vision, slower reflexes, trouble hearing, and stiff joints can all affect your ability to drive safely.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that as of 2024, almost 540 older adult drivers are injured and more than 20 are killed in auto accidents in the U.S. each day. 

We’ve created this guide on seniors and driving to help you and your family tackle this difficult question. Below, you can read about the warning signs of a dangerous driver, how to talk to your loved one about driving, and some of the best transportation services for seniors when you need them.

Key Takeaways

  • Vision impairment, hearing loss, drug interactions, and mental health conditions can all negatively impact a senior’s ability to drive. 
  • Look for signs of unsafe senior driving like dents to the car, speeding tickets, car insurance rate changes, and a newfound reluctance of your loved one to drive. 
  • You can help an older loved one stop driving by offering transportation alternatives, enrolling them in social programs to prevent isolation, and helping them find new daily routines that do not involve driving. 
  • If you’re concerned abut an unsafe senior driver who refuses to stop driving, you can make a report with the state’s DMV.

What Are the Causes of Senior Driving Difficulties?

Older drivers often deal with the natural effects of aging, such as decreased vision, hearing difficulties, or dulled reflexes. In addition, many older adults in the U.S. suffer from chronic illnesses that can impede their ability to drive safely, such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, or dementia.

Below are some of the most common risk factors that can interfere with an older adult’s ability to operate a car safely. The following factors do not mean they should immediately stop driving, but they can raise their risk of being in an accident.

  • Vision Impairment: Safe driving relies heavily on one’s ability to see clearly. As we age, impairments like cataracts, glaucoma, and decreased vision are common. Encourage your older loved one to have regular eye exams, and consult their eye doctor if you still have concerns.
  • Hearing Loss: One-third of people over the age of 65 have hearing problems. Hearing loss can undermine one’s ability to hear horns, screeching tires, sirens, and other sounds that would normally put you on high alert. Make sure your senior loved one receives regular hearing tests. 
  • Prescription Drug Use and Drug Interactions: Many prescription drugs, as well as herbal remedies and over-the-counter medications, can compromise driving ability by causing drowsiness, blurred vision, confusion, tremors, or other side effects, especially when taken in combination with other drugs. If your loved one takes a lot of pills each day, as many elderly people do, be sure to talk to a healthcare provider about the drugs and their possible side effects.
  • Other Health Conditions: Physical and mental health conditions can compromise driving ability and judgment. If you have questions about how your loved one’s physical condition can affect their ability to drive, consult a physician.
Expert Insight 
“Depression causes symptoms like excessive sleepiness, fatigue, reduced cognitive function, lack of focus, and slowed reaction time. These functions are necessary for driving a vehicle safely. It is important for your loved one to be assessed by a doctor. With adequate treatment, depression can be managed, and your loved one may be able to drive safely again,” explains Dr. Brindusa Vanta, MD. 

How Do You Know if Your Loved One Is an Unsafe Senior Driver?

How can you tell when the time has come for someone to stop driving? It isn’t always immediately obvious when an older adult begins to have trouble behind the wheel. Your parent or other aging loved one may not notice that their driving skills are deteriorating or may not want to acknowledge it. You may not want to either.

While you want your parents to maintain their independence as long as possible, don’t wait for an accident to happen before you intervene. We’ve developed guidelines that will help you avoid being an alarmist while also helping you know when driving is no longer a safe activity for the person in your care.

Expert Advice
“Even if the state doesn’t require driving tests to renew the license, you may suggest your loved one refresh their driving skills, especially if they have mobility issues or cognitive impairments. The instructor can provide objective, professional feedback about their driving skills,” says Dr. Brindusa Vanta, MD. 

Warning Signs of an Unsafe Senior Driver

Watch for the following signs of a dangerous driver:

Car Insurance Changes or Traffic Tickets

If you’ve observed some questionable driving on your aging loved one’s part, ask whether they’ve gotten any tickets for speeding or other violations. It’s best to ask in a neutral, non-accusatory way, preferably when they’re not behind the wheel.

If you’re not comfortable asking about tickets, ask whether your loved one’s car insurance rate has increased. If the answer is yes, this may be a sign that they’ve had recent driving infractions.

This is an especially telling sign for a driver who typically has not had tickets or warnings from law enforcement in the past.

Damage to the Car

When your aging loved one is not with you, walk around their car and look for signs of damage. Everyone’s car gets nicked now and then by someone else’s door in a parking lot, but does their car have the kinds of scratches or dents that could indicate driving mishaps? If so, ask them about it.

Reluctance to Drive

Notice whether your parent is reluctant to drive, seems tense or exhausted after driving, or complains of getting lost. They may, for example, decline invitations to social events that require them to drive, particularly at night. This may be their way of acknowledging that they’re aware of their own limitations and taking steps to avoid an accident.

Driving Behavior Changes to Look Out For

Take several drives with your aging loved one at the wheel, and observe their driving with an open mind.

As you ride with them, look for these signs of driving problems:

  • Do they fasten their seat belt?
  • Do they sit comfortably at the wheel, or do they crane forward or show signs of discomfort?
  • Do they seem tense and preoccupied, or easily distracted?
  • Are they aware of traffic lights, road signs, pedestrians, and other motorists’ reactions?
  • Do they often tailgate or drift toward the oncoming lane or into other lanes?
  • Do they react slowly or with confusion in unexpected situations?
  • Do they consistently wait too long to respond to traffic lights or other driving cues?
  • Do they tailgate?
  • Do they stay in their own lane or let the car drift very close to the centerline?
  • Do they complain about getting lost more than they used to?
  • Do they seem particularly tired after driving?

If you drive with them a few times and notice problems, it’s time to initiate a discussion about your concerns and whether it might be time for them to stop driving.

How Do You Talk to an Elderly Loved One About Driving?

If you have concerns about an elderly adult’s ability to drive, addressing them promptly could be a matter of life and death. Yet, it’s awkward and painful to inform older adults that they can’t do something as basic and essential as driving a car. For them, it can be another reminder of their growing inability to manage the tasks of daily life.

As difficult as it is, if you have reason to believe that the person in your care could be dangerous behind the wheel, it’s important to deal with the issue sooner rather than later since later could be too late.

  • Plan Ahead: Take time to consider how the situation looks from the driver’s point of view and what driving means to them. Giving up the car keys could affect where they live, who they see, and what interests and activities they can pursue. To you, this decision is a simple matter of good sense and safety; for them, it represents the loss of their independence. 
  • Start With Curiosity: Avoid coming on too strong when introducing the subject. A good way to do this is to initiate the discussion with a question. For example, “How are you doing with your driving? Are you finding it a little difficult to manage?”
  • Find Out If Other Health Issues Could Be Affecting Driving: If your loved one acknowledges that they’re having difficulty driving, find out if solvable medical problems could be causing the issues. Make appointments with their physician and eye doctor and be sure to ask about medication, side effects, and drug interactions.
  • Offer Alternatives: Whether or not your loved one has to give up driving immediately, you should help them become familiar with other transportation options. Take the bus with them if they’re apprehensive, and help them find out more about local transportation services and rideshare apps. 

How Do You Stop a Senior From Driving When It’s Unsafe?

Giving up driving is an inconvenient and emotionally draining process that can result in increased isolation and dependency. It’s important to be understanding as you help your loved one transition away from driving. 

Understand Your Role in Their Transition

Your active participation in your loved one’s transition away from driving will reassure them that ceasing to drive doesn’t sentence them to isolation and boredom. Below are some steps you can take to help them transition to life after driving: 

  • Make it a habit to check in on them, even just to chat or share news.
  • Offer to drive them to the activities they enjoy or help find someone who can take them.
  • See that they’re included in family outings, like their grandchildren’s school events or beach days.
  • Encourage them to take the bus or walk to their errands or social activities, provided they aren’t too far away. Offer to go with them if you can.
  • Urge them to ask for rides from friends and to reciprocate in whatever way they can (preparing a meal, for example).
  • Help them develop new routines and interests that don’t require driving, like gardening, walking, or swimming at the local pool.

Remember that your support and involvement in their lives can make giving up the car a far less lonely and frightening prospect.

Practical Steps to Help a Senior Stop Driving

Along with supporting an older loved one emotionally when they have to give up driving, you can also find practical ways to help them make the transition to being carless.

  • Learn about paratransit: Research local paratransit and other alternative transportation options, and accompany your loved one the first few times to make them feel more comfortable with it.
  • Identify informal transportation options: Brainstorm possible transportation options such as a neighbor that might be willing to drive them. Options that incorporate social opportunities are especially helpful, such as carpooling with other older adults to activities at the local senior center.
  • Help your loved one find activities that don’t involve driving: Suggest possible volunteer activities and other projects such as local hospital or school functions, provided they can get to them. Offer to help if they’re planning a house project, such as organizing their garage or planting a garden. Ensure they know about local activities and resources for older adults in their area.
  • Do some additional research: AAA offers advice for caregivers and information about transportation resources around the country. The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging also provides its own guide: Transportation Options for Older Adults. The American Public Transportation Association offers a directory of mass transportation resources around the country.

Transportation Options for Seniors Who No Longer Drive

If your elderly loved one is no longer able to drive and is receiving any of the below forms of care, they can likely access transportation assistance through one of them:

  • Help from family caregivers, friends, or neighbors
  • Help from paid caregivers
  • Transportation included in a long-term care community or adult day care center

For those not receiving these forms of assistance or care, there are other ways to get around, including:

  • Local public transportation or subsidized transportation options designed specifically for elderly or disabled riders
  • Ride-sharing options, such as Uber and Uber Caregiver or Lyft
  • GoGoGrandparent, a service that can help seniors book rideshares 

How to Support Your Loved One When They Can No Longer Drive

While it may seem like an easy solution for your loved one to stop driving, it’s a much more emotionally taxing change for them. Stoping driving often represents a loss of independence for seniors, and it’s important to support them both practically and emotionally during this time. 

Some ways you can support your loved one include: 

  • Listen: Don’t change the subject when your loved one talks wistfully about driving. They are mourning a major loss of freedom and need to come to terms with their grief. 
  • Watch for signs of depression: If your loved one shows signs of melancholy or uncharacteristic irritability, these could be symptoms of depression. Other symptoms can include loss of interest in activities, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and feelings of guilt or being unworthy.  If you suspect that your loved one is depressed, consult their doctor. 
  • Be present: Make a point of being more available than usual. Check on them regularly, include them in family activities, encourage them to keep in contact, and offer to drive them when you can. If you live far away, check in frequently by phone and visit as often as possible.
If your loved one does become lonely or isolated, it may be a good idea to consider senior living. You can learn more about your options for senior living by speaking to a Caring.com Family Advisor at (800) 558-0653. Or, read this article to learn about the different types of senior living

Find Senior Driving Rules and DMV Information in Your State

If you’re worried about whether an older adult is driving safely, resources provided by your state’s DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) may help. 

For example, if the person in your care refuses to stop driving and you believe they pose a significant safety risk, you can file an unsafe driver report with your state DMV. A DMV representative will then contact your loved one and request a medical evaluation, possibly including a driving test. Depending on the findings, their license may be restricted or revoked altogether.

Some states conceal the identity of the person who makes the report while others do not. Even if your loved one finds out you “interfered,” their potential anger is preferable to letting them injure or kill themselves or a pedestrian through a driving error.

You can find DMV information and senior driving rules in your state by clicking your state on the map below.

Senior Driver FAQs

At what age do most seniors stop driving?

75 is the average age of seniors who stop driving, but everyone’s situation is different. One 85-year-old driver may be safer than another 65-year-old driver. Medical conditions can also change a driver’s ability to act and react safely while on the road. Remember to judge your loved one’s abilities without overreacting. Speak with their physician if you have questions or concerns.

How can I encourage my elderly parent to wear their seat belt?

Defer to an encouraging and supportive attitude when broaching the subject of your loved one’s driving safety. Be patient and cite clear reasons why wearing a seatbelt is important without becoming angry or accusatory. Remember that while it may seem like sensible advice to you, your loved one may feel that their independence is at stake.

What are the benefits of an elderly driving school?

Safety courses and driving refreshers help remind your elderly loved one about the rules of the road and the safety procedures they should keep in mind. Additionally, they provide an opportunity for someone other than yourself to assess their driving abilities and take precautionary measures if needed.

Do seniors have to take a driving test?

Illinois is the only state that requires senior drivers aged 75 and up to pass a road test to renew their license. However, most states require vision tests at renewal (or every other renewal). Many states also require older drivers to make in-person visits to renew their licenses. Contact your state’s DMV if you would like to learn more about testing requirements in your area.