Driving as you get older

Remaining a safe driver into your senior years

Reuben Van Niekerk
Consumer Advice
Road Safety
Senior Citizen
Older Driver
Driving License

South Africa’s road traffic act puts no limit on the maximum age of drivers and as long as one can pass an eye examination every five years, your driver’s license will remain valid. 

Some motorists are capable of driving safely into their 80s and even into their 90s, but road safety becomes an issue once hearing, vision and physical limitations begin to hamper the ability to safely handle a car and navigate traffic. Driving safely requires a combination of physical and cognitive ability and driving skills. 

For example, neck pain or stiffness can limit the ability to look around or leg pain can make it difficult to move feet between the pedals while reaction times slow down with age. 

There are a variety of things that aging drivers can do to ensure that older drivers remain safe. This includes having their eyes and hearing checked annually and ensuring that their glasses remain current. Light but regular exercise including flexibility exercises can help improve reflexes and range of motion, ease pain and stiffness and help maintain enough strength to handle a car. 

Having the right vehicle can also make driving easier as motorists get older. Vehicles with automatic gearboxes, power steering and excellent visibility will certainly make the task easier. 

As there is no legislation mandating at what age motorists should give up driving, family members should observe the driving ability of their elders and step in if they think their safety on the road is becoming an issue.  

One of the first signs of cognitive decline in an elderly driver is if they start getting lost on routes that they travel often or if they accidently skip red traffic lights and stop streets. This can be caused by mental exhaustion or disorientation, which can prevent senior citizens from recognising their surroundings or road markings and furniture correctly. 

A decline in driving ability is also characterised by having difficulty staying in your lane, having trouble judging distances and driving too quickly or too slowly, which places older drivers at a higher risk of collisions and vehicle damage. 

If you feel that any of your loved ones are nearing the end of their driving career, it is essential to talk to them, but bear in mind that it could be a complicated and stressful topic. 

This conversation is best done in a one on one scenario because having too many people in the conversation can result in chaos and tension. Surrendering a licence can be associated with a loss of independence so it is important to discuss alternate transportation options that will allow the senior driver to maintain some of their personal independence. 

The primary focus should be on driving safely and avoiding a collision. Prioritising safety will help involved parties see the merit in hanging up their keys for good.