When Should Elderly Motorists Stop Driving?

Do Elderly Drivers Know When To Hang Up The Keys?

Image of a senior driver. Credit: Photobac/Shutterstock.com

As individuals grow older, certain skills crucial for safe driving may diminish, raising concerns about the risks of continuing to drive. Is it time to reconsider our driving abilities as we age? 

In Spain, while age does not automatically disqualify someone from driving, the validity period of a driving permit shortens after reaching 65 years. This approach recognises that driving capability depends more on individual skills rather than age alone, reports Onda Cero.

However, a recent Harvard study led by Dr Robert H. Shmerling, a senior health content editor at the university, highlights increasing traffic fatalities among older drivers. The study found that fatalities involving drivers aged 65 or over rose by 15 per cent between 2020 and 2021, resulting in over 8,200 deaths.

Understanding Risk Across Ages

Younger drivers, often inexperienced, are prone to distraction and reckless behaviour, contributing to a nearly 10 per cent increase in accidents involving 15 to 20-year-olds between 2020 and 2021.

On the other hand, older drivers may overestimate their abilities behind the wheel. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, drivers aged 80 and above have a higher rate of traffic accidents per kilometre driven than nearly all other age groups.

Evaluating Older Drivers

Experts advise closer monitoring of drivers over 65 for signs indicating a decline in driving capabilities. ‘They overestimate their ability behind the wheel,’ says Shmerling, pointing out the need for regular assessments.

With no set age limit for driving in Spain, the responsibility falls on individuals and their families to recognise when it’s time to hang up the keys.

Warning Signs

  • Comments about other drivers: Why does everyone complain at my driving?
  • Getting lost on familiar roads
  • Driving too fast or too slow
  • Unexplained appearance of dents or scratches

Why do driving skills decline with age?

  • Medical conditions, such as arthritis, neuropathy, or dementia
  • Medications, such as sedatives or certain antidepressants
  • Age-related changes in reaction time
  • Vision or hearing problems
  • Less flexibility or strength
  • Difficulty processing rapidly changing information

With the increasing number of older individuals behind the wheel, this evolving situation calls for a balanced approach, respecting the independence of older drivers while ensuring road safety for all.

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Written by

John Ensor

Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina. He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.


    • Jack E. Logan, Sr.

      25 November 2023 • 20:18

      I frequently see articles like yours about elder drivers and just get plain dumfounded at the conclusions.
      Insurance companies have very large and accurate actuarial tables to determine insurability and rates of customers so as to not lose money. That implies that insurance companies are a good source of data relative to drivers’ ages.
      If you would kindly direct your attention to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety you just might be surprised about stereotyping elder drivers.

      • Renato Besomi

        26 November 2023 • 17:12

        Yes, absolutely correct.

    • J Behan

      27 November 2023 • 01:35

      We live in an age of ageism, racism and Junk science. Covid taught us that the younger members of society want the older members to get out of their way, roll over and die from the pathology the young spread. Driving accidents are multi-factorial. If this article represents an indepth analysis of the Shmerling study, then the study is shallow. One of your references says half the British population surveyed think the elderly should be banned from the roads. I suspect that group is higher than average on voting for Brexit, lower education, poorer cognitive skills – perhaps they should be banned from driving from an early age !!

      • Peter Dare

        27 November 2023 • 10:38

        And voting!

    Comments are closed.