Does Old Age Actually Influence Driving Skills? by: Jenna Dolan


Driving at a slow rate is a stereotype that has evolved over time for elder adults.  It has been known that older adults typically drive slower behind the wheel, however after extensive research there are many factors that contribute to this stereotype.  Driving for most people is a primary means of transportation.  Speaking for myself I am one who easily gets road rage behind slow drivers while I am focusing on getting to my destination in the most efficient way possible.  Driving requires multiple tasks including, cognitive, sensory, and physical techniques to arrive at a destination safely.   For older adults, “driving is associated with health, well-being, quality of life through the maintenance of independence and mobility” (Chapman, 2016).  As time goes on, the human body gets older and these systems may not be as healthy as they once were.  With saying that, once one of these systems is impaired, it will alter daily tasks, such as driving abilities.  While researching this topic, it is clear that vision, cognition, and anxiety have impacted older adults’ ability to drive.

Vision and Confidence

Vision is classified as the ability to see and is an every day function that is essential to drive.  Since the late 1900’s, aging has been perceived as a period of decline, which includes vision.  When vision begins to decline, basic needs and wants become less attainable and must be accustomed to over the course of their lifespan.  Vision begins to decline because of “progressive degeneration of the macula that results in a loss of central vision necessary for reading, face recognition, activities of daily living, and mobility safety” (Schilling, 2016).

The ability to drive becomes more unattainable as health declines and can influence the way humanity feels about this stereotype.  With saying that, it is predicted that because of this, the stereotype is promoted negatively, weakening older adults’ confidence.  This prediction expresses how much humanity cares about what others perceive them to be.  This can result in “reduced speed and increased driver mistakes”, overall damaging their confidence (Chapman 2016).  Confidence plays a critical role in driving safely and the loss of confidence among older adults influences this stereotype.  With saying that, by promoting negative stereotypes about older adults, such as bad driving, the confidence among this generation declines only allowing the negative stereotypes to be true.

In a study, hazard perception ability, “which involved the anticipation of dangerous traffic situations, and has been associated with crash risk”, is measured and predicted that because of the negative stereotype towards older adults and driving, they will be slower at identifying the hazards (Chapman, 2016).  On the other hand, there have been studies performed that express older adults in positive stereotypes that result in having the opposite affect while driving.  In the study, multiple adults within the ages 65-86 years were randomly assigned to a positive or negative stereotype and were informed about what each stereotype entails.  Each participant was given a questionnaire and after the results were tested, negative stereotypes did not influence older adult’s ability to drive.  As long as the adult was within the ability to drive, there was no given reason as to why older adults, stereotypically, drive slower (Chapman, 2016).


Driving is a very cognitively strenuous task and can decline with age.  Cognition is defined as the “mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses” (Blomberg, 2011).  However, even though cognition required for many of the aspects of driving, the impairment of cognition does not confine older adults to drive less or quit driving all together.

A two-year long study was conducted to test this theory, which included participants that ranged from 70 to 94 years of age who expressed signs of mild cognitive impairment and early Alzheimer’s disease.  When determining if these participants supported or rejected the negative stereotype, factors such as comfort in driving during the day and during the night, attitudes towards driving, and driving in challenging situations were assessed. Over the course of two years, the results showed stability over time.  There were small changes within the magnitude of the factors over the course of the study, but the study did not show a specific factor that supported or rejected the hypothesis.  The small changes were seen in self- reported driving frequency, avoiding driving, and driving at a comfortable rate.  The magnitude at which factor did show the most change was feeling comfortable while driving.  Overall, this means that cognition does not play an underlying role as to why older adults drive slower.  (Rapoport, (2016).


Driving anxiety is caused by being reluctant to drive or having phobia towards driving (Hempel, 2017).  A large portion of older adult’s experience anxiety while driving (Hempel, 2017).  However, whether or not anxiety is impacted because of health and well-being is to be determined.  Because of demographic aging, in the next 20 years a large portion of older adults will stop driving because they relied on driving for liberation and mobility (Hempel, 2017).  Driving anxiety also is a predictor of self-regulating performances and low confidence because of the influences of aging (Hempel, 2017).

To promote older adults’ ability to retain their independence for as long as possible when driving, road safety is important.  As discussed earlier, “driving is considered to be an essential factor for maintaining health and quality of life in older adults, and older adults rely on their personal vehicles more than other age groups” (Hempel, 2017).  The study performed focused on driving anxiety in relation to physical health, mental health, and the quality of life.  The hypothesis before of the study discussed that driving anxiety played a negative role on these factors.  Two waves of questionnaires provided data including results that participants described as an “unpleasant feeling of nervousness or distress that may have no explanation” (Hempel, 2017). Overall, the study showed that as mental health, physical health and the quality of life decreased, driving anxiety increased.  With saying that, driving anxiety potentially plays a role in the negative stereotype that older adults uphold about driving slow.


In younger ages, driving is an everyday activity that is taken for granted and as times goes on, physical and mental health declines which disables many older adults from driving.  The evidence shows that older adults do not drive slower because of age.  After extensive research, vision can depress the ability to drive, however, it does not alter the influence on how older adults drive.  Cognition also can alter whether or not older adults are able to drive but it does not make them drive slower.  Driving anxiety does promote the negative stereotype because of a decline in physical and mental health with age. Nevertheless, it is not clear that this is the reason for the negative stereotype.  Overall, older adults have a negative stereotype of driving slower and it might simply be because they are safer drivers.


Blomberg, O. (2011). “Concepts of cognition for cognitive engineering”. International Journal of Aviation Psychology. 21 (1): 85–104. doi:10.1080/10508414.2011.537561.

Chapman, L., Sargent-Cox, K., Horswill, M. S., & Anstey, K. J. (2016). The impact of age stereotypes on older adults’ hazard perception performance and driving confidence. Journal Of Applied Gerontology, 35(6), 642-652. doi:10.1177/0733464813517505

Hempel, M. E., Taylor, J. E., Connolly, M. J., Alpass, F. M., & Stephens, C. V. (2017). Scared behind the wheel: What impact does driving anxiety have on the health and well-being of young older adults?. International Psychogeriatrics, doi:10.1017/S1041610216002271

Rapoport, M. J., Sukhawathanakul, P., Naglie, G., Tuokko, H., Myers, A., Crizzle, A., & … Marshall, S. (2016). Cognitive performance, driving behavior, and attitudes over time in older adults. Canadian Journal On Aging, 35(Suppl 1), 81-91. doi:10.1017/S071498081600009X

Schilling, O. K., Wahl, H., Boerner, K., Horowitz, A., Reinhardt, J. P., Cimarolli, V. R., & … Heckhausen, J. (2016). Developmental regulation with progressive vision loss: Use of control strategies and affective well-being. Developmental Psychology, 52(4), 679-694. doi:10.1037/dev0000099


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