Growing Older, Driving Safely

Safe driving requires complex visual processing – abilities that may begin to decline as we age. A loss in your visual abilities could endanger you and others on the road. But you can maintain your independence and drive safely longer if you:

1. Get a complete eye exam regularly,

2. Know the vision issues that can affect your driving,

3. Understand the laws in your state about driving as you age, and

4. Talk to your eye doctor about maintaining your fitness to drive

It is important to note that visual processing is but one component of safe driving. Other key factors include 1) the motor ability to scan rapidly changing environments; 2) the sensory ability to perceive information in a rapidly changing environment; 3) the attentiveness to process multiple pieces of information; and 4) the cognitive and motor ability to judge information in a timely fashion and to make appropriate decisions.

Know the Law in Your State ► Know the Law in Your State ▼

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety provides information about senior driver licensing laws in all 50 states. Read More

Vision and Driving

Visual Acuity ► Visual Acuity ▼

Visual acuity makes it possible for you to notice moving and still objects that you must see, and often notice quickly, to make safe driving decisions. With good acuity, you can read traffic signs, street names, and addresses at a distance with time to react safely to conditions. You also rely on your visual acuity to see any object or hazard on or near the road.

Vision in Low Contrast Situations ► Vision in Low Contrast Situations ▼

Low-contrast visual acuity lets you see and drive safely in rain, snow, fog, or at dusk. Objects do not always stand out clearly from their surroundings, such as potholes, cars without lights on at dusk, pedestrians crossing in front of you in the rain, and almost anything at night not directly in range of your headlights. When your visual acuity for low contract objects decreases, you may not be able to see potential dangers soon enough to respond safely.

Keeping Track of Visual Information ► Keeping Track of Visual Information ▼

When driving, you must scan your surroundings constantly for potential conflicts with other road users. At the same time, you must pay attention to road features like traffic signs and signals, and landmarks or other information that helps you find your way as you drive. This is most important at intersections, where the majority of serious crashes occur. When you are about to start moving after a traffic light turns green, you look to your left and right and then across the intersection in the direction you’re driving. Being able to locate safety threats quickly and make immediate driving decisions based on information from many different places is a critical part of driving.

What you are aware of in your field of view, and how quickly you become aware of it, can determine whether or not you can drive safely and avoid crashing at an intersection, a shopping center parking lot, or in any driving situation. If your ability to keep track of and process visual information decreases with age, you may have problems identifying and reacting to safety threats.

Visit an eye doctor regularly ► Visit an eye doctor regularly ▼

One very important thing you can do to make sure you can drive safely longer is get your eyes checked regularly by an eye doctor—at least once every other year—if you are 55 or older. You should visit your eye doctor even if you have no problems seeing, and talk to your eye doctor about driving and your vision.

Budget for proper eye care ► Budget for proper eye care ▼

You should budget for the cost of a regular eye exam at least every other year or more frequently if your doctor recommends it. Most people want to protect their vision and ability to maintain independence (including driving), even it if involves a cost. Proper eye care doesn't have to be expensive. Think of it as an investment in good vision and in your quality of life.