A senior driver with one hand on the steering wheel and the other hand is starting the car.

 Plenty of people continue to drive well into their later years. But the normal effects of aging can make driving more challenging, which may be why, in part, crash rates gradually increase after people reach 70 (though rates remain far lower than those for teens).

A variety of factors can contribute. Our senses can dull over the years, making it harder to hear car horns or emergency sirens, read traffic signs, or spot obstacles. Reflexes can slow, so it may take longer to react to changing traffic patterns or challenging road conditions.

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Medical problems can also play a role. Osteoarthritis, for example, can make it harder to crane your neck to check for blind spots while changing lanes, or to grip and turn the steering wheel.

But because there’s no definitive age cutoff for driving, it can be difficult to tell when you or a loved one should give up the keys. Here, the steps that may help you navigate better, the signs that it may be time to cut back or stop driving, and how to make that change easier.

Steps for Safer Driving

Can you improve your driving ability if it’s faltering? Perhaps. AARP and AAA both offer continuing driver education courses to help you brush up on skills. Also consider the following:

Check your medications. Some, notably cold and cough meds such as anti­histamines and decongestants, opioid pain meds, sleep drugs, and certain anti­depressants, may impair driving ability—and risks rise as you age. Ask your doctor whether your meds might affect driving, and what you can do, such as timing your doses strategically or using a different drug.

Take care of your health. Get your hearing and vision tested as recommended, and use hearing aids or eyeglasses if needed.

Ask your doctor about strategies that might help if chronic conditions are a concern. For instance, for arthritis, grip-friendly wheel covers and larger mirrors may be useful. And exercise regularly, including for strength and flexibility, to help maintain physical fitness. 

Make your car work for you. When Consumer Reports surveyed members about the safety features they find most helpful, drivers older than 60 reported high satisfaction levels with rearview cameras, blind-spot monitoring systems, and audio or visual alerts that let drivers know they’re about to hit another vehicle.

We also ranked some of our recommended car models based on features of particular importance to drivers as they age, and two scored at the top of our list: the Subaru Forester and Outback. 

Should You Consider Giving Up the Keys?

In some cases, simply adjusting your driving patterns may help—at least for a while. In our surveys of senior drivers, 62 percent reported voluntarily curtail­ing their driving when they felt their skills were slipping. Reasonable interim steps to take if you have any concerns could include driving only during the day, in good weather, or when the roads are less busy.

Individual risks can vary, but being in at least two car accidents or receiving two or more traffic tickets within the past two years are strong indications that you (or a loved one) may need to consider stopping driving, according to AAA.

Additional signs that someone may need to stay off the road include forgetting how to get to familiar places or one’s destination midtrip, mixing up the gas and brake pedals, and frequently hitting the curb.

Of course, deciding to give up driving can be emotionally fraught. So whether it’s for yourself or a family member, think about getting input from a third party. Professional driving assessments, either from trained driving skills evaluators or occupational therapists, can help determine whether it’s appropriate to continue driving—or not.

Local AAA clubs may be able to connect you with driving skills evaluators, and the American Occupational Therapy Association offers a driving specialist database.

Keep in mind that once you stop driving, you don’t have to stop going out. Your local Area Agency on Aging can help connect you with community transportation services. Ride-hailing services such as Lyft and Uber may also be an option, though they can be imperfect for seniors, especially those with mobility challenges.

Best Car Safety Features

There are many ways to prevent car accidents. 'Consumer 101' TV show host, Jack Rico, takes a look at the latest technology with CR's expert, Ryan Pszczolkowski. Plus, CR's driving expert, Jake Fisher, takes to the CR test track to demonstrate four tips to drive like a pro.

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the December 2018 issue of Consumer Reports On Health.