Centre for Road Safety

Watch for changes

Whether we drive, ride, walk or use a mobility scooter we need to be aware of changes to our health that could affect our safety when we travel.

While many of us will experience different levels of change, there are common medical conditions that are part of the ageing process. Some result in the loss of vision and hearing, decreased perception and memory, or reduced strength, flexibility and movement. Many of us will increase our use of medications as well.

As our health changes we face increased frailty, which significantly reduces our ability to survive a crash. NSW road crash data shows that people aged 75 years or over are three times more likely to be killed in a crash than people in their twenties. This risk increases for people aged 85 or over, who are at least four times more likely to be killed.

If you’ve noticed changes in your health, visit your medical practitioner. They can provide specialist advice on how to manage any conditions that may affect your safety on the road.

Hearing and vision

Good vision is essential for driving at all times. It is even more important when driving at night, in strong afternoon sun or in low-light conditions.

Common eye conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration can make it difficult to see vehicles, pedestrians, traffic signs and road hazards. Some eye conditions can reduce our side vision, making it difficult to see vehicles or people that are not directly in front  of us.

Being able to hear clearly enables us to respond correctly to others on the road and be aware of warning signals such as horns, emergency vehicle sirens and the reversing signals of other vehicles.

Problem solving, memory and decision making

Problem solving and memory abilities help us process and store information, make decisions and respond appropriately to different situations.

When driving, reduced problem solving abilities and memory can affect our capacity to monitor the road environment, respond to unexpected situations and make safe decisions.

Strength, flexibility and movement

We need muscular strength, flexibility and movement to turn the steering wheel, look behind us when reversing and move in our seat to use rear-vision mirrors.

Reduced strength, flexibility and movement are signs of increased frailty, which increases our risk of injury in a crash.

Medications

Medications help many people maintain good health and quality of life. However, some prescription and over-the-counter drugs can affect our coordination, mental alertness, mood and behaviour.

When driving, medications can affect our perception of hazards, reduce reaction times and impair decision-making skills. If we take two or more medications together, or combine them with alcohol, our driving abilities can be significantly affected.

If you take prescription or over- the-counter drugs, talk to your pharmacist or doctor for advice on any possible effects on your
driving. Always check the labels on medications if you are taking them before driving