Elderly Drivers

As drivers age, they become susceptible to a number of health issues and conditions that may affect their driving ability. HelpGuide.org notes that pain, muscle weakness, delayed reaction times and cognitive decline can all make driving difficult and dangerous for older drivers. Common problems with vision, hearing and health conditions can also affect driving skills. 

However, the medication they take to maintain their health may also become a problem. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently conducted a study of older drivers to assess medication use. 

The participants 

To be eligible for the study, people had to be between 65 and 79 years old. They had to possess a valid driver’s license and drive an average of once per week or more. Drivers with cognitive impairments were not eligible. 

Medications 

Researchers recorded 24,690 medications for 2,949 participants. Of those, 22,856 fit into the American Hospital Foundation Service classification system that groups medications based on their pharmacologic, therapeutic and chemical characteristics. The medications that did not fit into the system included homeopathic products, supplements other than vitamins and food like items such as spices or protein. 

Medication usage 

Only 3.3% of the participants said they do not take any medication. Medication usage among the other participants was as follows: 

  • 10% used two or fewer medications 
  • 25% used four or fewer 
  • 25% used 11 or more 
  • 10% used 16 or more 
  • 1% used 26 or more 

One person reported using 51 medications. 

Failure to warn 

In another study, AAA researchers discovered that health care providers and pharmacists may not be providing enough warning to older drivers taking multiple medications. In fact, only 18.8% of older drivers taking five or more medications received a warning from their health care providers about the potential effects on their driving skills. 

A third study reviewed older drivers who visited a hospital emergency department during a 30-day period. Researchers discovered that none of the drivers taking medications with sedative side effects reported receiving a warning from a provider or pharmacist about driving.