Driving safely as you get older

Be aware of how health and fitness can affect driving.

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  • Health matters

  • Know the law

  • Refresh skills

  • Plan ahead

Driving safely matters, whatever age you are

With age, changes in your vision and other health issues can lead to slower reaction times, which can affect driving. As a result, you may find that you start to avoid driving at night, use the car less, drive shorter distances along quieter routes, and generally avoid motorway driving where possible.

It is important to make sure that, whenever you get in the car, you are still able to drive safely. Read on to learn how to keep driving safely for as long as you can.

Top tips for safe driving

  • Get regular NHS eye examinations to help ensure you’re driving safely
  • Plan your route, especially when driving longer distances or to unfamiliar places. A SatNav can be useful: set it up in advance and never adjust it while driving
  • Keep active to improve strength and flexibility. This can ease essential tasks such as turning the steering wheel or looking over your shoulder. Regular exercise can also help sharpen mental agility and concentration
  • Allow more time and space to react when driving by reducing your speed and leaving plenty of room between you and the car in front. Good anticipation is critical
  • Avoid distractions. It is illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving and even a hands-free mobile phone can be a distraction
  • Refresh your driving skills- take a refresher course through driving schools as well as national organisations such as IAM Roadsmart or the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA)
  • Make mobility modifications through the Scottish Driving Assessment Service
  • Use hearing aids
  • Refresh your knowledge of The Highway Code, which had some major changes in 2022, and keep up to date with the latest changes

Is a change in vision affecting the way you drive?

As you get older, your eyesight undergoes changes which can impact your ability to drive safely. This can be an issue, especially when driving at night or in changeable light conditions.

There are things you can do to continue driving safely:

  • Get regular NHS examinations to be sure you can continue to drive safely
  • If you notice a change in your vision, book an NHS eye examination right away
  • Some people are eligible for help towards the cost of glasses or contact lenses in the form of NHS optical vouchers
  • You must be able to read a number plate at a distance of 20 metres away – roughly five car lengths
  • If you need to wear glasses, then do so while driving, otherwise it’s an offence (which could invalidate your insurance)
  • If you’re stopped for a check and you fail an eye test, your licence can be revoked immediately

Think about any medical issues

Conditions like diabetes, strokes and arthritis can all impact on your driving ability. In terms of being allowed to drive, or letting the DVLA know, you should always take advice from the medical practitioner dealing with your condition.

Medication can affect driving too

Some prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines can also have an impact on your driving but it’s often difficult to predict when and how they’ll affect you. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Always read the labels, and ask your doctor / pharmacist for advice
  • As medication is often used to suppress symptoms, it is important to consider the effect on driving ability when you stop taking any medication
  • Driving while impaired due to the use of prescription drugs is against the law and subject to exactly the same penalties as driving under the influence of illegal drugs. This can include a fine of up to £5,000, loss or licence and potentially prison

Driving licence expiry

Your driving licence expires when you turn 70. If you want to keep driving, you need to renew it (and then do so every three years). Here’s how renewing your driving licence works:

  • The DVLA will give you the chance to renew as you approach your 70th birthday

  • It’s free and you can either do it by post, or online by using a unique ID code

  • You’ll need to complete a medical declaration of your fitness to drive

How to keep driving within the law

You must tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) if you have a driving licence and:

  • you develop a ‘notifiable’ medical condition or disability
  • a condition or disability has got worse since you got your licence

Notifiable conditions include anything that could affect your ability to drive safely, such as:

  • diabetes or taking insulin
  • syncope (fainting)
  • heart conditions
  • sleep apnoea
  • epilepsy
  • strokes
  • glaucoma

You could be fined up to £1,000 if you do not tell the DVLA about a condition that might affect your ability to drive safely. You could also be prosecuted in the event of a collision, even if it is not your fault.

The rules and advice on what you must do will depend on the exact nature of your condition. It is essential to seek and follow advice from a medical professional, and to comply with any decision the DVLA makes about your driving licence. For further information visit www.olderdrivers.org.uk/the-law/common-conditions

Make mobility modifications

If you are experiencing problems such as difficulty in gripping the steering wheel or with other car controls, the Scottish Driving Assessment Service can give advice. They can also provide a full fitness to drive assessment. This is a free NHS service which is open to everyone in Scotland via a referral from your GP.  For more information visit www.smart.scot.nhs.uk/service/driving-assessment

Parking concessions may also be available to disabled drivers and passengers under the Blue Badge scheme. For further information visit www.gov.uk/apply-blue-badge

Make your life easier

If you’re thinking of changing your car, there are a few things that can make driving easier:

  • Change to an automatic
  • Use technology like Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) to detect an accident and automatically brake, or Blind Spot Assistance, which warns you if someone’s in your blind spot
  • Make use of reversing aids, like cameras or parking sensors
  • Check for ISOFIX mountings – these are handy for child seats

Looking after your car

It’s important to regularly check your vehicle and make sure it’s roadworthy. Here are some basic checks that you should do:

Daily checks

Have a quick look for any damage or punctures that might have happened while the car’s been parked up. Look underneath in case any fluids have leaked.

Weekly checks

Looking under the bonnet, you’ll see a number of different coloured caps.

These are things that need routine checking, like engine oil, brake and power steering fluid, coolant and windscreen washer fluid. In some cars, you may need to do this using the car’s infotainment system.


  • Check your tyres for cuts or bulges and make sure they are at the right pressure
  • The right tyre pressure for your car’s make and model will be in your handbook, and usually on a sticker inside on the rear door wheel arch
  • Always check pressures when tyres are
  • Tyre tread depth needs to be at least 1.6mm for cars and light vans
  • This can be checked with a tread depth gauge, or you can use the wear bars on the tyre tread to see how much is left


  • Check the engine oil level when the engine’s cold and the car’s parked on level ground
  • If the engine’s been running, wait 3-4 minutes before checking
  • The level shouldn’t be below the minimum level indicator
  • Be careful not to overfill, as this can cause problems for the oil seals and catalytic converters
  • Most cars have electronic indicators that show if you need to top up
  • Some cars’ warning lights come on if the oil is overfilled too
  • If you’re in any doubt, speak to a mechanic /garage or check your manufacturer’s handbook

Radiator coolant

  • Most cars have a sealed system and another small tank for checking and topping up coolant
  • Make sure the coolant level is between the min/max lines
  • Only check when the car is cold: when it’s hot there’s a high risk of scalding
  • Most cars have additives for running all year, but an older car might need extra antifreeze in winter

Windscreen washers and wipers

  • Make sure the windscreen washer bottle is full
  • Adding antifreeze/cleaning additives to the water, is a good idea
  • Check the wiper blades for cuts and tears and replace if faulty
  • If your wipers are noisy, the blades might have hardened and will need to be replaced

Service your car regularly

Regular servicing can help pick up faults before they cause a breakdown. Find a local garage that offers good service and reasonable pricing.

Are your documents up to date?

It’s important to keep your vehicle paperwork up to date. Here are the main things you need to remember:

Road tax

  • The cost of road tax is determined by either engine size or fuel type and CO2 emissions
  • The easiest way to tax your vehicle is online where you can review road tax costs


  • Make sure your vehicle’s covered by the most appropriate valid insurance policy


  • This is an annual basic safety check after the vehicle is 3 years old
  • Costs vary, but should be around £55 (find out more about MOT prices)
  • If a vehicle fails an MOT it needs to be repaired immediately, as it is an offence to use it on the road (although you’re allowed to drive it to and from the MOT garage by prior arrangement)

Always plan ahead

  • If you are going on a journey, it’s a good idea to think ahead. As well as making sure the driver is always fit to drive, here are some other tips:
    • Make sure your vehicle is in good condition with enough fuel
    • Take frequent rest stops, at least every two hours
    • Input any details into your SatNav before setting off
    • Avoid driving in really poor weather, unless it’s essential
    • Have a fully charged mobile phone (and in-car charger) in case of emergencies
    • Tell someone where you’re going, when you expect to arrive, and confirm your arrival

Choosing when to stop

  • It is your responsibility to ensure, and declare to DVLA, your fitness to drive
  • Planning ahead for the day when you need to stop driving may make things less stressful in the long run
  • If your reactions are becoming slower and you feel anxious when driving, it may be time to talk to someone about stopping
  • Saving on running and repair costs, and the extra income from selling a car can be a real bonus
  • Getting out and about on foot or cycling can be invigorating, improve mental health and reduce stress. Using your National Entitlement Card (bus pass) has the added bonus of contributing towards a cleaner, greener Scotland
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