Poor eyesight, reduced hearing, deteriorating medical conditions, general tiredness: these could all have a worrying impact on your relative’s driving.
On this page you can find information on how the following can affect safe driving:
4. Medical conditions
Eyesight usually deteriorates with age and it’s important that older drivers have their eyes tested regularly. While many changes in eyesight can be treated by wearing glasses or contact lenses, others, such as cataracts, glaucoma or macular degeneration, may lead to a more permanent change in vision.
Free eye tests
The NHS offers free eye tests to people over the age of 60. Those aged between 60 and 70 are entitled to a free test every two years, while for those over 70, the free test is available annually. Your relative will need to let their ophthalmic practitioner know they are entitled to a free NHS sight test, and they will then be given a GOS1 form to fill in and sign.
If your relative has diabetes or glaucoma, or has been advised about being at risk of these conditions, the name and address of their doctor needs to be added to the form.
Drivers who require glasses or contact lenses in order to meet the standards of vision for driving must wear them every time they drive.
Age-related hearing loss affects roughly one in four people aged 65–75, and around half of those over 75. While impaired hearing itself isn’t necessarily a barrier to safe driving, problems arise when people are not aware of – or refuse to acknowledge – changes in their hearing ability. A person who thinks they can hear better than they actually do is less likely to hear an approaching vehicle or a car horn, putting themselves and others at risk.
If you are concerned about your relative’s hearing, encourage them to get it checked. There are various quick checks that can initially be made without having to visit a GP, either over the phone from Action on Hearing Loss on 0844 800 3833 (local rate call) or online from the Action on Hearing Loss website. For more information, see this page of the NHS Choices website.
Watch our video guide to choosing the right hearing aid to find out the difference between various hearing aids, how to pick the right one for your relative and where to buy it.
Although driving is not a physically strenuous task, the mental demands can be exhausting. For longer or unfamiliar journeys, it may be advisable to look at alternative transport options.
Medical conditions and driving
Some of the more common age-related medical conditions that could affect safe driving are listed below. Drivers have a legal responsibility to make the DVLA aware if they have certain health conditions, including problems with their eyesight that may affect their driving. A full list of these conditions can be found on the GOV.UK website.
In Northern Ireland, medical condition rules may differ slightly. For more information, see this page on the nidirect.gov.uk website.
Arthritis affects the joints, making them swollen, stiff and painful. It can occur in different joints within the body – most commonly hands, feet, back, hips and knees. Arthritic joints will have limited movement, which may present challenges with several aspects of driving.
Alzheimer’s and dementia
Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia affect the way the brain works and may result in forgetfulness and disorientation. An added danger is that people with Alzheimer’s are often not aware of their own condition; they may therefore believe that they are perfectly safe to drive, when in fact they could be putting themselves (and others) at great risk.
While in many case diabetes can be controlled, people with diabetes can experience spells of sleepiness, dizziness and confusion. In some cases diabetes can also lead to a seizure or a loss of consciousness.
There are many symptoms of Parkinson’s and the range and severity of these will vary from person to person. ‘Motor’ symptoms, which often affect movement, are relatively common and can include tremors, slowness of movement and stiffness – any of which could make it difficult to react quickly and effectively when driving.
The effects of stroke can vary widely, from problems with vision and memory to partial paralysis. It is also sometimes the case that people recovering from a stroke do not realise the full extent of their condition and the associated limitations.
Car safety features
Many newer cars have advanced safety features, to help you get from A to B without any mishaps. These include:
- Electronic stability control (ESC) This is software that can automatically reduce a car's engine power - and sometimes operate individual brakes - should it detect the car is about to lose stability or is at risk of skidding.
- Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) This uses a variety of sensors and cameras to monitor the road ahead, and will audibly alert you to an impending collision. Plus, it will automatically perform an emergency stop if it doesn't think you've done enough to prevent collision.
- Lane-keeping technology A basic version simply warns you if you're straying too close to the edge of your lane on the motorway without indicating. More advanced systems will automatically make steering adjustments to keep you within line.
These only scratch the surface of the many safety features you'll find on cars these days. For more information on the above features - and the other most important ones - read the car safety features explained guide on the Which? Cars site.
- Dementia and other memory problems: dementia can affect someone’s ability to drive. This page provides more information about dementia.
- Dealing with poor mobility: advice and guidance on home adaptations and products that can help if your relative has poor mobility.
- Financing care at home: information about the finance options if your relative needs additional help and support at home.
- Blue badge scheme: read our guide for information on eligibility, how to apply, renewals and how to use the permit.
Page last reviewed: January 2016
Next review due: January 2018