Assess Your Driving Skills
One of the most important things seniors can do to maintain their driving independence is to regularly assess their driving skills and physical and mental abilities in order to pinpoint areas for improvement. Drivers can then take steps to brush up on relevant driving skills – such as merging onto a busy highway – or counteract physical and mental changes in order to continue driving safely.
Aging impacts us all differently, despite chronological age. As we get older, realistically assessing the strengths and challenges related to being a driver is important. Reflecting on your own current ability, rather than comparing yourself to others, allows you to thoughtfully make decisions and plan for a positive future.
It is not age, but physical and mental functioning that determines driving fitness. An assessment can help you determine to what degree the changes brought about by aging may be affecting your ability to safely drive. Assessing these functions, through self-assessment or with the help of family, friends, and professionals, provides information to act effectively and responsibly.
Assessment can guide your future decisions about driving and serves as a useful reminder of your strengths and what you already know. Even if your assessment identifies no issues and you can keep driving safely, continuous ongoing evaluation of your driving skills will help you recognize challenges if they do arise, allowing you to take action as needed.
Your assessment may identify issues that can be corrected or managed by taking actions such as a driver refresher course, placing restrictions on your driving, an exercise program to increase your flexibility, or others. You may identify serious risks to safe-driving and decide to discuss them with your doctor, explore other means of transportation, or even consider giving up driving.
Assessments typically focus on the skills needed to safely operate a vehicle: thinking, seeing, moving as well as your abilities when you are behind the wheel driving. There are a range of assessment options available: short questionnaires you can do by yourself, in-depth interactive online tests that you do with a partner, and in-depth assessments conducted by healthcare and/or driving professionals.
The Role of Chronic Health Conditions
With increasing age the risk for chronic disease increases. These conditions influence how we think (cognition or how our brain processes information), see (our vision), hear, feel (our mental health) and move (our mobility). If you have a chronic health condition or serious injury, you may have to give up your licence sooner than you expected.
Conditions such as diabetes, heart problems, stroke, arthritis, macular degeneration, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease or other long term conditions may impact your ability to drive safely or have unpredictable characteristics that may affect your driving. Sometimes it is the medication related to these conditions or a combination of medications, which may affect your driving safety. Alberta Transportation lists a number of medical conditions to consider when thinking about driver fitness.
If you or someone close to you has been diagnosed with a cognitive impairment, such as Alzheimer’s disease or progressive dementia, consult your doctor for an assessment. These illnesses will likely not allow you to accurately assess your own driving abilities. Discuss with your doctor medications you are taking that may affect your driving abilities. It is difficult to judge your own level of impairment resulting from medications. This is because of the way certain drugs affect thinking and judgement.
Self and Partnered Assessments
Self and partnered assessments can be done at home using questionnaires or interactive online tests. You can also get direct feedback about your driving from someone who rides with you. Self-assessment is not a substitute for professional assessment but it may identify an issue that requires further exploration with a professional. By being open-minded as you approach self-assessment, you will get the best information.
This simple driving assessment takes around 15 minutes to complete.
This interactive online assessment is more in-depth and takes about 45 minutes to complete. You will need a partner to complete this assessment.
Seniors Transportation Access and Resources (STAR) produced a comprehensive manual to help seniors, their family and friends, make decisions about driving. The manual titled Keep Moving includes an observed drive exercise starting on page 23. You will need a partner to complete this exercise.
You may decide to seek a professional assessment if you have noticed some of your skills needed for safe driving are not as strong as they used to be. For example, you may not be seeing as well, reacting more slowly, or losing flexibility or strength that makes some driving manoeuvres challenging.
An assessment can help you find out how your driving has been affected and if you could benefit from a referral to rehabilitation. Your doctor may complete the assessment or may refer you to an occupational therapist, a private company, or a clinic that specializes in driving assessment and evaluation.
For more information about professional assessments and the benefits they provide, review this comprehensive guide produced by the Hartford Center.
AMA’s In-Vehicle Evaluation
AMA provides an in-vehicle evaluation for older drivers. This evaluation provides you with an individualized assessment of your driving skills and abilities. You receive confidential feedback and recommendations based on a 45 minute drive evaluated by a specially trained instructor. For more information about the in-vehicle evaluation, see the AMA website.
The CarFit program was implemented in Canada in 2014. It’s a joint partnership between CAA and the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists (CAOT).
CAA clubs and CAOT representatives organize events to help mature drivers assess how they fit in their cars for maximum safety and comfort. Additionally, the program provides education to promote driver safety in mature drivers.
As we age, changes in vision, flexibility, strength, range of motion, height and even medication can make us less comfortable behind the wheel. To minimize the risk of injury and ensure proper vehicle operation, we recommend all drivers over 65 receive a CarFit assessment.
How it works
Visit a CarFit clinic offered in your community to see how well you and your vehicle work together. A trained CarFit Technician will ask a series of simple questions and complete a 12-point checklist. In about 20 minutes, participants will receive a summary of their vehicles’ fit, recommended adjustments and adaptations, and a list of local resources in their area.