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Cars & travel.

Updated: 20 May 2022

Useful tips for older drivers

Older people can experience difficulty with driving for many reasons. We offer useful tips to ensure elderly drivers can continue to enjoy their cars safely.
Daljinder Nagra
Older driver

Regardless of how experienced a motorist you may be, there may come a point where driving begins to get more difficult. 

Whether it’s due to problems operating the controls or you’ve simply had your confidence knocked, this guide provides a number of useful tips to help you continue driving comfortably and safely, for as long as possible.

Check the car is right for the driver

If you or someone you know is having difficulty driving, it may simply be that the car is not suitable. 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 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 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 aren’t 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.

For more tips on choosing the right vehicle for you (new or used), head to our guide on how to buy the best car.

Vehicle adaptations that may help

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 Research Institute for Disabled Consumers (RiDC). RiDC 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 an existing car.

Drivers considering adaptations to their car, or buying a car specified to meet their needs, should have an assessment at a Driving Mobility centre. These are independent, but are recognised both by the DVLA and the Motability scheme, through which disabled people can use their higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or the enhanced rate of the mobility component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) 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 including free parking in selected areas.

Check out our comprehensive Blue Badge scheme guide for information on eligibility, how to apply, renewals and how to use the permit.

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. Read our guide on the best sat navs 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 assessments

Through a Driving Mobility centre, 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.

Few drivers of any age can say that they’ve never had cause to question their confidence – 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, but they can be an invaluable first step in assessing whether someone is safe behind the steering wheel.

Medical conditions that can affect safe 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 (and could invalidate their car insurance). 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 the nidirect.gov.uk website.

Arthritis

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 (see useful tips for older drivers).

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’re perfectly safe to drive, when in fact they could be putting themselves (and others) at great risk.

Diabetes

While in many cases 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.

Parkinson’s

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.

Stroke

The effects of stroke can vary widely, from problems with vision and memory to partial paralysis. It’s also sometimes the case that people recovering from a stroke do not realise the full extent of their condition and the associated limitations.