Skip to main content

Oregon State Flag An official website of the State of Oregon »

Ways to Improve Driving

Various health conditions ‒ related or unrelated to aging ‒ can affect our ability to drive safely.  Fortunately, there are many ways to improve our driving no matter our age.  See below for more information. 

Making sure our vehicle fits us is one of the easiest things we can do to improve our driving.  

AARP, AAA, and the American Occupational Therapy Association worked together to develop a community-based program, CarFit, which offers “older adults the opportunity to check how well their personal vehicles "fit" them.  The program also provides information and materials on community-specific resources that could enhance their safety and/or increase their mobility in the community.”

The program involves a “checkup” of 12 items to ensure:
  • A clear view over the steering wheel,
  • Enough distance from the front airbag,
  • Proper positioning of seat and mirrors,
  • Ability to use the foot pedals, and
  • Proper seatbelt use and fit.
In-person events and online resources can be found on CarFit's website​. ​

Distractions are often more challenging as we age.  Today’s most common distractions include:
  • Cell phones.  Even when using a hands-free device, research shows that it is still a distraction.  If you must use the phone, find a safe place to pull over before you do.  
  • ​GPS devices, including those on cell phones.  They can be helpful in making sure we get where we’re going and… it's still a distraction.  Especially when we’re closely focused on it to find where we’re going.  If you must pay close attention to the GPS, find a safe place to pull over while you do that. ​
  • Information and entertainment systems, also known as infotainment systems.  According to AAA​, “researchers found that the technology created potentially unsafe distractions for all drivers, though this safety risk is more pronounced for older adults  who took longer (4.7-8.6 seconds) to complete tasks, experienced slower response times, and increased visual distractions.” As with navigation and communication systems, find a safe place to pull over before using the system.  

Our ability to perceive information from the world around us decreases as we age, which can make it hard to judge the speed and distance of oncoming cars.  As a result, left turns are one of the most common driving challenges, and the most dangerous move, for older drivers.  

Other common driving challenges include:
  • Driving at night and during bad weather;
  • Merging into traffic, i.e., right of way;
  • Changing lanes;
  • Navigating roundabouts;
  • Yielding to traffic;
  • Responding timely to traffic signals; and
  • Driving while impaired by prescription and/or over-the-counter medicine.​

One of the best ways to address many of those common driving challenges is to enroll in a Driver education program specific to Older Drivers, such as:  

A severe injury in a crash is more likely when we are older because our bodies are more fragile.  Staying fit may help reduce injury severity by strengthening our bones.  Staying fit and healthy also helps us stay mentally alert which can reduce the potential for a crash.  It can also reduce arthritis pain, anxiety, and depression.  

Good resources specific to older drivers for exercising and staying fit include:

The impacts of various health conditions as well as the normal aging process can negatively affect our driving skills and abilities.  That does not automatically mean our driving days are over.  

Driver Rehabilitation Specialists and Occupational Therapists provide Driver Evaluation and Rehabilitation that can enable you to improve your ability to drive safely, whether impacted by the aging process or an unrelated health condition.

Driver Rehabilitation Specialists

Driver rehabilitation specialists are professionals with backgrounds in healthcare and/or driver education who have completed additional training and education in the field of driver rehabilitation.  Driver rehabilitation specialists work with people of all ages and abilities, exploring transportation solutions for drivers with special needs and the aging.

Driver Rehabilitation Specialists:
  • Conduct a thorough evaluation of abilities and limitations,
  • Provide driver remediation and training,
  • Assist with navigating the state driver licensing process, and
  • Work closely with mobility equipment dealers to achieve optimum vehicle fit.
They may suggest vehicle and/or route changes, such as avoiding left turns, to help the person drive safely.  To find a driver rehabilitation specialist in your area, see the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists search page.

Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapy can assist seniors [and others] in maintaining the activities they enjoy the most. Aging or changes from medical conditions does not always mean turning in the keys. 

Occupational therapy practitioners are experts at working with individuals on what is most important to them … including driving.

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) partners with other organizations and groups to assist drivers of any age with driver education and rehabilitation.

According to the Oregon Health Sciences University Occupational Therapy webpage, Occupational Therapists: 
  • Help you to regain the physical, social and thinking skills you need to do things that are important to you;
  • Teach you to complete tasks in a new way and will suggest equipment to help you be as independent as possible;
  • Assess your abilities;
  • Develop a custom treatment program to help you do daily activities; and
  • Work with you to set goals and make any needed adjustments along the way.
Ask your healthcare provider about finding an Occupational Therapist.​