Older people can experience difficulty with driving for many reasons. Their existing car may no longer be right for them, or  it might require some adaptations.

On this page you can find information on:

1. Checking the car is right for the driver
2. Vehicle adaptations
3. The Blue Badge scheme
4. Satellite navigation
5. Driving safely
6. Driving assessments

Check the car is right for the driver

If someone is having difficulty driving, it may simply be that the car is not suitable for them. There could be a number of reasons for this; for example, someone who has pain or weakness in their arms may find it much easier to drive an automatic car or one with lighter power-assisted steering.

Some problems could be solved by making minor adaptations to the existing car, such as  fitting auxiliary mirrors to aid all-round vision or aftermarket parking sensors; even subtle adjustments to the driver's seat and its height can give a better - and more comfortable - driving position or ease of access. 

If adaptations are not possible or sufficient, drivers might want to consider switching to a different model, perhaps one smaller and easier to manoeuvre or which gives a better driving position and view of the road. Of course, this could involve a degree of extra cost, but could prove to be a worthwhile investment in staying mobile, as having the right car can sometimes make a world of difference.

Vehicle adaptations

More complex and specific adaptations can be made, including fitting hand controls to use instead of foot pedals, specially-shaped pedals, 'spinners' to reduce the effort needed to turn a steering wheel, tiller or joystick steering, and hoists and seat-lifts to ease access in and out of the car. A detailed guide to these, and to suppliers and fitters, can be found at the Rica website. 

Choosing and adapting a car

Rica is a charity that specialises in consumer research for older and disabled people. Their website has some excellent guides: there are pages on choosing and finding the right car, as well as information on the range of options available for adapting your existing car.

Drivers considering adaptations to their car, or buying a car specified to meet their needs, should have an assessment at one of the UK's Mobility Centres. These are independent, but are recognised both by the DVLA and the Motability scheme, through which disabled people can use their mobility allowance to lease a new car, scooter or powered wheelchair.

The Blue Badge scheme

This scheme for disabled drivers, or those with permanently limited mobility, offers concessions such as free parking in selected areas or a reserved parking bay outside a Badge holder's home. Eligibility is assessed by your local council and an administration fee may be charged; you can apply for a Blue Badge either directly to your council or via an eligibility tool on this page of the GOV.UK website. The Blue Badge is not a licence to park anywhere - see this page for a guide as to where and when it can (and can't) be used.

To find your relative's local authority and a link to their Blue Badge page, enter your relative's postcode into our Care services directory and click on local authority services.

Satellite navigation

Trying to navigate in new or unfamiliar places can be a challenging experience, and the more technologically-literate may benefit from using satellite navigation - turn-by-turn voice commands and/or dashboard displays to guide you to your destination. 

Many newer cars come with this fitted as standard, but devices to add to the car are available. Members of Which? can access a guide on How to buy the best sat nav for more information. 

Navigation apps can also be downloaded for use on smartphones, suitable for in-car use if the phone is held in a dashboard-mounted cradle. 

Driving safely

Driving safely means many things: from ensuring that you leave enough space from the vehicle in front to understanding the effects of wet weather on driving and so much more. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents produces an excellent range of fact sheets, covering many topics about which drivers of all ages should be aware.

Staying safe on the road means being fully aware of your abilities and limitations. Sometimes our health or eyesight can change without us being immediately aware, and some changes in health or eyesight may affect our ability to drive – for more information, see What can affect safe driving?.

Driving assessments

Through the Forum of Mobility Centres older people can get information, advice and a driving assessment relating to medical conditions, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, or for returning to driving following an illness, injury or accident. Assessments, advice and driver training are also offered by organisations and charities including Queen Elizabeth's Foundation for Disabled People (QEF).

For more details about driving with dementia, and how to organise an assessment, see this page of the Alzheimer's Society website.

There aren’t many drivers out there who can say, hand on heart, that they’ve never had cause to question their confidence - and even the most self-assured driver could benefit from taking an occasional refresher course. It’s surprisingly easy to fall into ‘bad habits’ or to forget some of the key things we learned when we got our licence. A few hours with a good driving instructor can be the quickest way to regain some confidence and to brush up on important skills.

None of these refresher courses will result in a driver ‘passing’ or ‘failing’. They are simply there to provide additional training and support. Some useful courses are:

The AA: The AA offers a free Drive Confident course to those who meet certain criteria. Applications are open to all via an online form.
The Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM): The IAM’s Mature Driver's Assessment course is geared specifically towards older drivers.
Private driving instructor: Many private driving instructors have experience of working with older drivers. Always look for an instructor who is registered with the Driving Standards Agency (DSA). The Directgov website allows you to search for a DSA registered instructor in your area.

Even the most self-assured of drivers would benefit from brushing up on their road safety knowledge, and there are a number of websites and fact sheets available; see Useful organisations and websites). Those who feel in need of some extra confidence could benefit from taking a refresher course; there are a number of options available, some of which are geared specifically toward older drivers.

More information

Page last reviewed: 31 January 2016
Next review due: 31 August 2017