Riding along in my automobile – tips on how to be older, safer drivers


Snow, fog, driving rain, flooding – all dangerous conditions for any driver, experienced or otherwise and yet, likely hazards at this time of year.   For older drivers driving means: being part of the community; being able to visit friends and family, shopping and so keeping their independence.

Thirty years ago, only one in three men and one in 20 women aged over 70 held a driving licence; today, three in four men and one in three women are licensed to drive. In the next twenty years, the number of male drivers over 70 will double, and that of female drivers will treble. http://www.roadsafetygb.org.uk/

Having driven all their adult lives why should they stop now?  How can they be helped to do this safely? 


Experienced drivers are, in general, safer than those with less experience. But as we get older, our health and fitness, often including our eyesight, physical condition and reaction times, begin to decline. Age related conditions can also begin to affect driving. Of course, this is different for each person; there isn’t an age at which someone automatically becomes unsafe to drive.

Many drivers recognise that their driving ability is changing and so change when and where they drive, not driving at night for example. There are also several simple things that can help us continue to drive, safely, for as long as possible, such as taking regular driving assessments and refresher training. 

At the William Merritt Centre older drivers with a disability or medical conditions can take part in professional and impartial driver assessments. This service is particularly relevant if you or your family have concerns about your driving.  Assessments are carried out by experienced occupational therapists and approved driving instructors who will identify and give feedback to you on any potential safety issues and any effects from a medical problem, as well as more general advice on driving techniques where appropriate. You will also able to view and trial vehicle adaptations that you may wish to consider as present or future options

Philip North says: “I am a driver assessor at the William Merritt Centre and I realise how important it is to for older drivers to continue to drive safely and confidently.

The purpose of the assessment is to ensure the driver is safe to drive and is NOT a driving test.

I assess the impact of any medical condition on the driving skills and ensure that it’s not affecting their ability to drive safely.  I can give advice on swapping from a manual transmission car to an automatic or allow drivers to trial various vehicle adaptations if they are necessary to overcome a disability.”

Here’s an example showing how we can get involved


Mr B is a 78 year gentleman who attended for a driving assessment following stroke. He had been referred by his Occupational Therapist.

Mr B had made a good recovery from his stroke and was keen to return to driving. He was anxious about having a driving assessment as he hadn’t driven for 7 months. He had previously driven locally and regionally without any problems.

Previously Mr B had driven an automatic transmission car and therefore the assessment team suggested that he would be driving one of the Centre’s automatics, a Vauxhall Mokka.  All clients drive one of the Centre’s vehicles as they have dual brake controls for safety and are insured for any driver. The assessment team carried out an initial interview to gather information on Mr B’s previous medical history and also driving history. The team were also able to provide information on the assessment process and answer any questions. The aim of the team is to answer any anxiety and worry.

Mr B had an on road practical driving assessment with a driving instructor and Occupational Therapist, with professional experience in carrying out these assessments. Mr B completed the assessment and no problems were found. Mr B felt reassured that he had been found safe to drive.

Mr B is just an example of the types of clients we see and are able to help and advise.

Any driver who has a disability or medical conditions such as diabetes, stroke or any heart condition that could affect their ability to drive safely must inform the DVLA. The DVLA will send you a form to enable you to do this, and you will need to declare that you are still fit and able to drive safely. If you are not confident that you can make this judgement yourself then a mobility centre, such as the William Merritt Centre in Leeds, can help.

There are many things that we can do to adapt our driving to the challenges of our busy road network and continue to drive safely for longer.

Tips: Know your limitations. If you start experiencing problems such as difficulty in gripping the steering wheel or working other controls, speak with your GP. They may be able to refer you to an occupational therapist or there may be some aids and accessories to help make driving easier. For example, you can attach extra mirrors to give you greater vision behind, or steering balls which can make it easier to steer and hold the wheel.

Consider changing your car. You may find that a smaller vehicle is easier to manoeuvre or offers better visibility. Dashboards can differ from vehicle to vehicle, so look for ones with displays that you can see easily. Many modern cars also offer aids such as parking or reversing sensors, power steering and brake assist to make them easier and safer to drive.

Update your driving skills – the roads and vehicles on them have changed dramatically since most of us passed our test so it can be beneficial to take a refresher course designed to enhance driving skills and update your knowledge of the law. National organisations such as Institute of Advanced Motoring or The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents( RoSPA)  have schemes available or you could book some private lessons through a local driving school or instructor.

At the age of 70, a UK driving licence expires:  this doesn’t mean that you have to stop driving, but that you’ll need to renew your licence every three years.

There may come a time when you do decide to stop driving because you, or your loved ones, have noticed your reactions slowing or you’re feeling increasingly anxious when behind the wheel. But this doesn’t mean that you have to give up your independence as there are many other options for travelling around the city. You may even find that giving up driving saves you money as you’ll no longer have insurance, maintenance and petrol costs.

But in the meantime,  happy driving.

About betterlivesleeds

Health, social and age-related care services working together to make Leeds the best city for health and wellbeing
This entry was posted in Active ageing, Age Friendly, healthy lifestyle, Independence, older people and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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