Safe Driving for Seniors

Tamera Jackson by Tamera Jackson | Licensed since 2007
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This article was updated on: 10/16/2017

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Does your family talk with you about safe driving for seniors? If you’re an older adult, driving may feel like an important part of retaining your independence. However, if you’re proactive about continually improving your driving skills and mindful of things that could affect your driving, you may be more likely to safely stay in the driver’s seat for as long as possible.

Here’s an overview on safe driving for seniors, including how aging may affect your driving ability and how Medicare coverage may help keep you healthy and safe on the road.

Senior driving safety: how age might affect your ability to drive

Although getting older doesn’t automatically mean your driving ability will get worse, it’s important to be aware of how age-related factors and health conditions may affect your driving skills.  According to AAA, the automotive motor club association, things that might affect senior driving safety include:

  • Physical weakness and flexibility: aging may result in physical changes that affect your mobility, alertness, coordination, and response times. Stiff joints can make it difficult to turn your head during lane changes or check blind spots.
  • Vision changes: Changes in the way our eyes focus as we age can have an impact on driving safety. In seniors, it can take the eyes longer to shift focus from close-up to far away. Also, many older people need more light in order to see clearly.
  • Hearing changes: the ability to hear ambulance or police sirens, car horns, motorists, or pedestrians can help you avoid potential dangers. Yet about a third of Americans over age 65 have some age-related hearing loss, AAA reports.
  • Cognitive problems: According to AAA, our ability to process information tends to slow down as we get older. Of course, certain conditions like dementia can affect your memory and ability to make sound judgments. Seniors with dementia might not be able to react appropriately to traffic situations and might not react properly to traffic signs and pavement markings.
  • Medications: some prescription drugs may have side effects, such as drowsiness, that make driving dangerous. Some people may take multiple medications, possibly creating a hazardous or even illegal scenario for driving.

Can seniors be evaluated for safe driving practices?

If you’re concerned about safe driving practices (or the lack thereof) in you or a loved one, you might want to talk with a doctor and consider having your driving skills assessed. For example, you might want to get your vision or hearing examined or find alternative transportation.

Many older adults are surprised to hear that some state motor vehicles departments, such as California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), don’t automatically reexamine drivers because of age alone. The California DMV typically only requires you to retake your driving test in certain situations:

  • You didn’t pass the vision test. The DMV will typically test your vision when you’re renewing your driver’s license. If you fail to meet minimum vision requirements, you may be required to be examined by an optometrist, and your eye doctor must fill out a form certifying that you can see well enough to safely drive. You may need to retake the vision test and, in some cases, may be asked to retake the driving test as well.
  • You were referred to the DMV because of a health condition or concern over your driving ability. A friend, family member, police officer, or doctor may refer you to the DMV to get retested.

The rules may vary among states.

Seniors for Safe Driving and other senior driving safety courses

If you’re an older adult looking to improve your driving skills, a senior driving safety course may be a good refresher and help you feel more comfortable on the road. Even if you’ve been driving for many years, highway laws may have changed since you first took your driving test; for example, many states now have rules banning cell phone usage or texting that may not have been in place when you first started driving. A senior driving course may help you learn new driving techniques and bring you up to speed, so to speak.

Older residents in Pennsylvania may be interested in Seniors for Safe Driving, a senior driving program that helps adults over 55 improve their driving skills and learn safety tips. The program partners with insurance companies to offer discounted premiums upon course completion.

If you don’t live in Pennsylvania, there are many senior driving courses nationwide, similar to Seniors for Safe Driving. Some of them may also offer premium discounts if you finish an approved course. Contact your local motor vehicle department to find out if there are approved programs like Seniors for Safe Driving in your area.

Senior driving safety and staying healthy with Medicare

Since health is often the biggest factor affecting senior driving safety, it’s important to understand the role your Medicare coverage plays in keeping you healthy.

Medicare Part B may cover certain preventive and diagnostic vision exams, including:

  • Annual vision exams to check for diabetic retinopathy for beneficiaries with diabetes
  • Glaucoma screenings for those at high risk for glaucoma
  • Cataract surgery, including one pair of corrective lenses (either glasses or contacts) following an implantation of an intraocular lens

Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) doesn’t cover most routine vision services, but some Medicare Advantage plans may. Offered through Medicare-approved private insurance companies, Medicare Advantage plans must offer at least the same coverage as Part A and Part B (except for hospice coverage, which you get through Part A directly). However, many plans include extra coverage that goes beyond Original Medicare, which may include routine vision and hearing services. Original Medicare usually only covers diagnostic hearing and balance exams; it typically won’t cover routine hearing exams or the cost of hearing aids.

If you’re unable to safely get to and from doctor appointments and can no longer drive, keep in mind that in most cases, Medicare only covers non-emergency ambulance transportation if your doctor certifies that it’s medically necessary. As another option, some Medicaid and PACE programs may cover medical transportation for seniors; contact your state insurance department for more information.

Would you like to learn more? Just enter your zip code into the plan finder tool and click the Compare Plans or Find Plans buttons on this page. If you need one-on-one assistance at any point, just call the number below during business hours to reach a Medicare.com licensed insurance agent.

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