Drivers in old age: Between quality of life and traffic safety

In Germany, there is no age limit for driving licences and it is not uncommon to see drivers over the age of 75. Older people are often reluctant to part with their car as driving in old age allows them to lead an independent life. Being able to go to the supermarket at the weekend, get to the doctor by car or drive to the pharmacy on the other side of town all contribute to a quality of life that they don’t want to give up, even at the age of 80. Sometimes people ignore the fact that the body sets its own limits.

Are senior citizens driving a car a traffic risk?

Statistics show that many senior citizens continue to actively participate in road traffic. According to a survey, 27 per cent of 65 to 85-year-olds surveyed spend time with their family every day. But while they are often overconfident in their own driving abilities, the challenges of age present inevitable limitations. The reality of ageing means that eyesight, hearing and reaction time can decline, which can also have an impact on road safety.

The question of whether senior citizens should continue to drive leads to controversial discussions. Are they a traffic risk? Accident statistics suggest that although older drivers are less likely to cause accidents than young drivers, the risk of accidents increases significantly from the age of around 75. Nevertheless, older drivers often demonstrate responsible driving behaviour and are rarely conspicuous for speeding or risky manoeuvres.

Are there mandatory medical examinations or check-ups?

In some European countries, such as the Netherlands and Portugal, there are regular driving fitness tests for senior citizens. In Germany, however, such tests are not mandatory. Around 59 million driving licence holders would potentially be affected by a health check, including over 16 million senior citizens over the age of 65. The discussion about the introduction of mandatory tests for older drivers continues, but so far there are no concrete plans in this direction.

For those in favour of such tests, the responsibility for road safety is clear. Around 70 per cent of respondents are in favour of carrying out tests to assess the fitness of senior citizens to drive. These tests could identify potential deficiencies such as impaired perception and reaction times or restricted movement, which could pose a risk to all road users.

On the other hand, opponents of such tests argue that age alone does not determine fitness to drive. Experience and anticipatory driving are often more important than the driver’s age. The ADAC emphasises that procedures developed to date are not meaningful enough and that a positive test result could lead senior citizens to overestimate their own abilities.

What might help?

The role of driver assistance systems and technologies

In an age of advancing technology, driver assistance systems are increasingly becoming important companions for older drivers. These systems, such as parking aids, emergency brake assistants and lane departure warning systems, can help to compensate for age-related limitations and increase road safety. They offer support during difficult manoeuvres and warn the driver of potentially dangerous situations.

Parking aids are particularly helpful for older drivers who may struggle with limited mobility. They make it easier to park in tight spaces and reduce the risk of parking damage. Emergency brake assist systems can save lives by automatically initiating braking in emergency situations if the driver does not react quickly enough. These systems are particularly important for older drivers, whose reaction times may be slower than those of younger drivers.

Lane departure warning systems can help to prevent accidents caused by unintentional lane departures. They warn the driver if they change lanes without indicating and can even take corrective action to bring the vehicle back on course if necessary. This technology is particularly useful for older drivers who may be struggling with a loss of concentration.

Overall, driver assistance systems can help to make older drivers safer on the roads and increase their confidence in their own abilities. By compensating for age-related limitations and recognising potentially dangerous situations, they help to improve road safety for all road users.

Regular check-ups

A regular medical examination is essential for older drivers to check their fitness to drive and to recognise potential health problems at an early stage. Doctors can identify age-related limitations such as impaired vision, hearing loss and motor problems and make appropriate recommendations.

Vision problems can have a significant impact on driving ability, as they can impair the driver’s vision and make it difficult to recognise road signs and other vehicles. A regular eye test can identify problems at an early stage and determine the need for visual aids such as glasses or contact lenses.

Hearing loss can impair communication in road traffic and cause important warning signals such as horns or sirens to be ignored. A hearing test can identify hearing problems at an early stage and indicate the need for hearing aids or other solutions.

Motor problems such as limited mobility or muscle stiffness can impair the handling of the vehicle and reduce the driver’s ability to react. A medical examination can recognise these problems and make recommendations for physiotherapy measures or other treatments.

The incentive of insurance companies

Concerted action by insurance companies, doctors and transport institutions could help to improve the safety of older drivers while maintaining their independence and mobility. However, as long as no mandatory tests are introduced, the responsibility lies with the individual to critically reflect on their own fitness to drive and, if necessary, to switch to other means of transport in good time.


Despite the debate and differing opinions, the question of fitness to drive in old age remains an individual and social issue. It is crucial that senior citizens are able to realistically assess their fitness to drive. It is recommended to undergo regular medical examinations and, if necessary, to use driver assistance systems to compensate for age-related limitations.

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