Keeping a Young Mind: Senior Driver Safety

April 9, 2018

Henry Ford, the automotive juggernaut founder and captain of industry, said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.  Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young”. When it comes to senior drivers (drivers who are 80 years old and above), ongoing education not only helps foster a young mind, but also a safety-conscious one.  In this blog, we will review the law related to safety for senior drivers, discuss age factors to consider, provide proactive driving fitness recommendations, and suggest driving safety tips.


The Law

Section 16 of Regulation 340/94 (Drivers’ Licences) of Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act, states that any driver who reaches the age of 80 is required to complete a driving examination every two years.  This examination may include:

  • Testing a driver’s knowledge of the Highway Traffic Act;

  • Assessing a driver’s ability to safely drive a car; and

  • Medical examinations and physical tests to determine driving fitness.


Factors to Consider

While every driver may have different skills, abilities, and experience, everyone undergoes physical and mental changes as they age.  Such changes can have a significant impact on driving decisions and road safety. Therefore, it is important for senior drivers to consider and assess the following factors:

  • Vision: Gradual changes in vision can impact the ability to judge distance, see moving objects, and to see in reduced visibility conditions such as at dusk or dawn and during inclement weather.

  • Hearing: Compromised hearing will impact the ability to hear horns, sirens, braking, and calls from other drivers.

  • Flexibility, Movement, and Strength: Any decrease in flexibility, movement, and strength can affect the ability to check blind spots, look for traffic and pedestrians at intersections, merge with oncoming traffic, yield the right of way, drive in reverse, and park.

  • Medical Conditions and Cognitive Impairments: Medical issues can cause tremors, muscle spasms, and the ability to reason which, in turn, results in impaired coordination, improper driving manoeuvres, and reduced concentration, reaction, and response time.

  • Medications: Prescription medication may cause drowsiness, confusion, reduced concentration, blurred vision, fatigue, and dizziness.


Proactive Driving Fitness Recommendations

Senior drivers can take the following proactive steps to maintain and prolong driving fitness:

  • Exercising and pursuing leisure activities;

  • Stimulating mental acuity by reading, solving puzzles, and playing games;

  • Attending regular medical, vision, and hearing appointments with health care professionals;

  • Maintaining a healthy diet and regular sleeping schedule; and

  • Safeguarding against any negative side effects of prescription medications.


Driving Safety Tips:

For a safer driving journey, senior drivers should implement the following safety tips:

  • Vision:

    • Ensure that the windshield, windows, and lights are clean.

    • Avoid night driving or drive on well-lit roads.

    • Wear up-to-date prescription glasses.

  • Flexibility and Movement:

    • Pay attention to adjacent and oncoming traffic together with pedestrians at intersections.

    • Regularly check mirrors and blind spots.

    • Avoid reversing out of parking spaces wherever possible.

  • Judgment and Reaction:

    • Maintain a distance of at least three seconds behind the car in front.

    • Drive at the posted speed limit (slow driving is hazardous).

    • Activate turn signals well in advance of turns.

    • Apply brakes gradually and smoothly.

    • Slow down in inclement weather and for poor road conditions.

    • Drive in the right lane whenever possible.

  • Concentration:

    • Avoid distractions such as cell phones, adjusting the radio, and eating or drinking.

    • Do not drive when anxious, fatigued, or distraught.

    • Plan the route to the destination and avoid times of the day when traffic is heavy.

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