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Two accidents in the recent past
have put the spotlight on the driving ability of senior citizens
– one incident involved an 80 year old in Jeffrey’s Bay,
and the other involved a senior royal


seniors and driving


In South Africa, there is no stipulated legal age at which you must stop driving.  An AA spokesperson agreed that one cannot discriminate against senior motorists but it would be wise for elderly people to be tested for their eyesight and to check that they are still capable of driving their vehicles.

Earlier this year, it was reported that an 80-year old woman crashed through a restaurant window in Jeffrey’s Bay, after apparently confusing the accelerator and the brakes in her car.  Several months ago, Prince Philip voluntarily gave up his driving licence three weeks after a car crash.   Prince Philip, 97, was behind the wheel of a new car, when the car collided with another vehicle as he was leaving Sandringham Estate.  He failed to see the other car coming because of the bright winter sun which was low in the sky.   His car flipped on its side and he had to be pulled out of the sunroof of the car.  Surprisingly, he escaped injury, but the passenger in the other car broke her wrist. The driver of the other car and her 9 month old son were uninjured.


seniors and driving 2


How do we spot the warning signs of unsafe driving: 


  • Frequent close calls such as dents and scratches on the car or on garage doors, and curbs.
  • Increased traffic tickets or “warnings” by traffic or law enforcement officers.
  • Driving habits change – for example, making sudden lane changes, drifting into other lanes, and braking or accelerating suddenly without reason. Other examples include failing to use the turn signal, or keeping the signal on without changing lanes.
  • If you don’t see the traffic lights or street signs, it is possible that you are having eyesight issues.
  • If you don’t hear others hooting at you, or emergency sirens, then it is possible that you are experiencing hearing problems.
  • If you are frequently getting lost, or missing exits that you think you know, you could be having memory problems.
  • If you don’t react quickly enough, or you confuse the gas and brake pedals, or get flustered while driving, or are quick to anger, then it is possible you having problems with slowed motor reflexes and range of motion.

There are inevitable ageing factors such as decreased vision, impaired hearing, slowed motor reflexes, and worsening health conditions which can cause issues.  Ageing can also result in a  reduction of strength, coordination, and flexibility, which can impact your ability to safely control a car.  Things like –

  • Looking over your shoulder could become difficult due to neck pain or stiffness;
  • Moving your foot from the gas to the brake pedal can be made more difficult due to leg pain.
  • Turning the steering wheel could be hard if you are suffering from diminished arm strength.
  • Ageing comes with slower reaction times.

It is likely that you will have driven your entire life and have taken great pride in being a careful and safe driver, but you need to take cognisance of the fact that your driving ability could change as you age.  Although ageing does not automatically equal total loss of driving ability, it is a good idea to prepare yourself for the fact that one day, you may need to stop driving.  But always remember that you can still maintain an active and rewarding lifestyle without a car.


seniors and driving 3


Preventative measures


Ageing does not automatically equal total loss of driving ability. There are many things you can do to continue driving safely, including modifying your car, altering the way you drive, and addressing any physical issues that can interfere with driving.


Keep your health in check


Regular check-ups are important to keep you in the best possible driving shape. 


Schedule in an eye and hearing test annually


  • As we age, our ability to see in the dark gets worse which means that night driving can pose a safety risk.
    If you have glaucoma, an eye specialist can prescribe tinted eyeglasses to help reduce the glare.
  • 60% of seniors aged 65+ have age-related hearing loss. If you need a hearing aid, then ensure you wear it when driving.




  • Certain medications can affect your driving ability. Speak to your doctor about the possible effect that medication could have on your driving.


Finding the right car and aids you need for safe driving


  • Perhaps you need a vehicle with automatic transmission, power steering, and power brakes.
  • It is worthwhile to keep your car in good working condition with regularly scheduled maintenance.
  • Ensure that windows and headlights are always clean.


Drive with awareness


  • Leave adequate space for the car in front of you to allow for sufficient braking distance.
  • Be vigilant when parking, and at intersections and traffic lights.
  • If driving at night is an issue, then only drive during the daytime.
  • If fast-moving traffic makes you uncomfortable, stay off the freeways and highways.
  • If heavy rain is a problem, then rather travel by Uber or ask a family member or friend for a lift. 
  • If you are unsure of where you are going, plan your route ahead of time to avoid getting lost.

The assumption that seniors are a menace behind the wheel is fundamentally incorrect.  Emmy Betz, M.D., M.P.H., an emergency room physician and associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine who researches senior-driving safety says the following:  “Research and statistics has shown that the crash rates per mile driven are highest for the youngest drivers (ages 16 to 19), though they do begin to tick up steadily once drivers roll past age 70. But even at 85, senior drivers crash less often, per mile, than teens. Older adults don’t get enough credit for their safe driving habits.  Older drivers are more likely to use seat belts and follow speed limits. They are less likely to drive at night or while intoxicated, or to text while they drive. Many seniors also regulate their driving behaviour, limiting their trips at night, on highways, or during rush hour”.

Driving is an important part of our independence as we age. By reducing risk factors and incorporating safe driving practices, we may be able to continue driving safely long into our senior years.

There is no “magical age” when we need to hang up our keys, but we do need to take cognisance of the safety and well-being of ourselves and others. 


Have you had to give up your keys?

Or are you thinking about this possible issue?

Perhaps you have a view you would like to share with us..?

Share with us in the comments section below.



Other interesting YEI articles


Farewell Old Age Home! Hello co-living!

Five work-from-home opportunities for SA pensioners


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