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Impacts of Aging on Driving

As people age, it can become more difficult to drive safely. Someone's ability to react quickly, remember, and to make judgments in traffic situations can gradually decrease. Eyesight worsens. Strength and flexibility decrease. Older drivers can take longer to react to unexpected situations.

Age related changes don’t affect all drivers at the same rate or in the same way. Although vision, memory, physical strength, reaction time, and flexibility decline as people age, how fast this happens varies with each person.

Vision

Vision is vital to driving. Older drivers usually need more light to see things along the roadway.  They often must be closer to read signs and see what’s happening with traffic. Older eyes need more time to recover from the glare of headlights at night. Drivers over 50 should have their eyes checked every year or two.

Tips for wearing glasses or contacts:

  • Always wear them when you drive, even for short trips. If your driver’s license says you must wear corrective lenses and you don’t, you could get a ticket.
  • Try to keep an extra pair of glasses in your vehicle. Then, if your regular glasses get broken or lost, you can drive safely. This will also help if you don’t wear glasses all the time and you forget to bring them.
  • Don't wear dark glasses or tinted contact lenses at night, even to help with glare. They block too much of the light you need to see.

Cognition

Cognition includes:

  • Perception;
  • Attention;
  • Learning;
  • Memory;
  • Thought;
  • Visual processing;
  • Reading; and
  • Problem solving.

Driving requires many of these skills. You must remember:

  • How to operate your vehicle;
  • What the signs and signals mean; and
  • Know your destination and how to get there, all while processing other information.

Motor Function

Aging can affect:

  • Muscle strength;
  • Endurance;
  • Flexibility; and
  • Range of motion. 

These are needed for safe driving. A loss of any of these skills makes it harder to control the vehicle. Aging can cause muscles to stiffen making even simple movements more difficult.

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