Are you too old to drive? 

Being old doesn’t automatically mean we are unfit to drive. In other words, having a bit of dementia is not a driving disqualification. That’s good news for an ageing population with dementia as a new fact of life.[1]


Public safety may be in issue where old drivers have become unfit to drive. However, even before that stage arrives, the general public perception is that old drivers are unfit to drive – they are a “danger on the road.”[2]


The perception that old people are a danger on the road is apparently borne out by a Malaysian study published in the 2009 European Journal of Social Sciences.[3]  It looked at driving practices of 400 older Malaysian drivers (aged 50 and above) and found 56.6% had ‘high driving related knowledge’, 54.8% showed ‘confidence in selected driving situations’ and about 45% had ‘good driving attitude’ and nearly 52 % practiced ‘safe driving’.


If we look at it from the reverse side of the coin, it in effect tells us that, despite many of these being ‘young’ [50 – 60 years old] old people:


·       some 43.4% don’t have ‘high driving related knowledge

·       about 55% don’t have ‘good driving attitude’, and

·       about 48% don’t practise ‘safe driving’

On the other hand, bearing in mind certain peculiarities in that country, these impressions tell a lie. You realize this when you are on the road where there are many younger drivers and you immediately notice:

  • Many drivers don’t seem to know (or want to observe) road rules
  • Some drive as though they had bought their driving license, and
  • ‘Safe driving’ seems to be regarded as a big but sick Malaysian joke
  • The idea of public safety seems to be unheard of as far as many drivers are concerned

At the end of the day, however, the perception that old people shouldn’t be occupying space on the road [as drivers, of course] is sure to be felt by many of us at some stage of our remaining life. So, if our family, relatives or friends feel we are showing serious signs of dementia, they may urge us to give up driving for safety concerns.


What are the tell-tale signs we may be too old to drive? Our ability to drive (driving skills) may be affected by some symptoms of dementia. There are some realities to take into account. This may be particularly relevant to what my 5 year old granddaughter refers to as the “really old” age group (70s upwards?). Tell-tale signs include the following:


1.     Forgetting the usual route to our home

2.     Not knowing where we are driving to (having poor short term memory?)

3.     Not knowing why we are going there

4.     Getting disorientated or lost in a familiar road or location.  

5.     Losing concentration at times, such as not noticing the red light we just drove past

6.     Finding night lights too bright or feel sunlight to be too dazzling

7.     Having difficulty driving along busy and crowded streets

8.     New dents on the car indicating an increase in poor judgment in car parks or getting out of tight spots or miscalculating speed and distances, and showing generally poor judgment

9.     We choose to avoid night driving or going on busy roads or to long distances

10.  Feeling sleepy or drowsy easily when we don’t normally feel that way when driving in younger days

Some of these dementia signs may be only in the early stages.  They affect our driving capability only occasionally. But for our own sake and the safety of others, they are definite footprints not to be ignored.