Which of the Following Most Often Distracts Older Drivers?

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Key Takeaways

  • External distractions like rubbernecking are most common for older drivers
  • In-vehicle technology can be highly distracting for 55-75 year olds
  • Age-related decline in vision, cognition impact driving abilities
  • Steps like limiting distractions are key for older driver safety
  • Driving during daylight, avoiding alcohol help older drivers stay safe


Distracted driving is a major problem on our roadways, contributing to thousands of accidents and injuries each year. For older adults aged 55 and above, distractions while driving can be even more detrimental due to age-related declines in vision, physical abilities, reasoning, and memory. But what exactly tends to distract older drivers the most? This comprehensive article will analyze the key distractions for older drivers, the impacts of age-related changes, steps older adults can take to drive more safely, and how to limit dangerous distractions. After reading, you will have a thorough understanding of the distractions that most often impact older drivers.

The value of this content stems from its ability to illuminate the unique challenges and safety considerations for older drivers. By covering the science behind age-related declines in functioning, evidence on technology distractions, and actionable strategies to drive safely, readers will be empowered to make smart choices to protect themselves and others on the road. The depth of research and focus on practical solutions makes this article uniquely helpful for older adults and their loved ones aiming to continue driving safely for as long as possible.

What Are The Most Common Distractions For Older Drivers?

External distractions outside the vehicle, like rubbernecking, are the most frequent for older motorists. However, in-car technology can also be highly distracting and problematic for older adults. We will analyze both external and internal distractions to understand what tends to divert older drivers’ attention most often.

How Do External Distractions Like Rubbernecking Impact Older Drivers?

Research shows that older drivers are more likely to be distracted by external stimuli than internal distractions. According to a CDC report, the most common distraction for drivers over 65 is “looking at external objects, events, or people”—essentially rubbernecking. This could involve looking away from the road at billboards, accidents, pedestrians, buildings, or scenery.

A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that compared to other age groups, drivers 75-79 were over 8 times more likely to be distracted by rubbernecking. The visual demands of driving increase with age-related decline in vision, so any additional head or eye movements to look away from the road furtherincrease crash risk.

Are In-Vehicle Technology Distractions Problematic For Older Adults?

Although external distractions are most frequent overall, technology inside the vehicle can also divert attention from the road for older motorists.

A study by the AAA Foundation found that drivers between 55 to 75 years old are more likely to be distracted by in-vehicle technology than those under 55. Interacting with touch screens, infotainment systems, and in-dash technology took drivers’ eyes and attention off the road and hands off the wheel.

The increased visual, manual and cognitive demands posed by in-car technology can exceed older drivers’ diminished abilities. Complex infotainment systems may be confusing or frustrating for seniors who are less familiar with modern technology as well.

How Do Age-Related Functional Declines Impact Driving Abilities?

Normal aging brings declines in vision, physical mobility, reasoning capacity, memory and other skills key for safe driving. These age-related changes help explain why distractions can be so detrimental for older adults. Understanding how aging affects driving lays the groundwork for steps seniors can take to compensate.

How Does Worsening Vision With Age Affect Older Drivers?

Age-related eye diseases like cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration can degrade visual acuity, depth perception, and ability to see in low light. These vision impairments make it harder to view dashboard controls, spot pedestrians or obstacles, read signs, merge safely, and more.

A CDC report found that 1 in 6 drivers aged 70 and over have cataracts, which can cause glare and double vision. With compromised vision, any source of distraction that shifts eyes further from the road adds major risk.

Do Physical Changes Impact Driving As We Age?

According to the CDC, arthritis and weakened muscles can make it harder for seniors to turn their head and look over their shoulder to change lanes safely. Stiffening in joints or reduced flexibility of the neck and back can also obstruct visibility and contribute to blind spots.

Conditions like arthritis in hands or feet can inhibit control of the steering wheel, pedals or gear shift. Any physical distraction that takes an older driver’s hands off the wheel can endanger safe maneuvering of the vehicle.

How Do Changes In Memory & Reasoning Ability Affect Older Drivers?

Our cognitive faculties decline with age, including the ability to quickly process information, multi-task, recall instructions, and react under pressure.

A CDC report states that older adults may take up to 50% longer to react to hazards than younger drivers. With slowed reflexes, any source of distraction can prevent older drivers from responding promptly to pedestrians, traffic signals or changing conditions.

Dementia severely impacts memory, judgment and attention span. The Alzheimer’s Association states that drivers with dementia are 2 to 8 times more likely to be involved in a car accident. Distractions for those with cognitive impairment quickly escalate crash risk.

What Steps Can Older Adults Take To Drive More Safely?

Since distractions have heightened impact due to age-related functional declines, older drivers must take proactive steps to limit distractions and stay safe. Following best practices helps mitigate risks and keep seniors driving independently for longer.

How Can Older Drivers Reduce Dangerous Distractions?

  • Minimize in-vehicle technology use: Only use familiar technology and programs that require minimal interaction. Adjust settings before the car is moving.
  • Avoid cell phone use: Talking or texting on a cell phone while driving can significantly impair performance. Let calls go to voicemail and pull over safely to use your phone.
  • Limit conversations: Engaging with passengers can shift focus. Keep chatting to a minimum and focus eyes on the road.
  • Reduce external distractions: Move attention back to driving at the first sign of rubbernecking. Keep eyes facing forward on the roadway and avoid staring at objects, events or people.

What Other Steps Help Older Drivers Stay Safe?

  • Avoid drinking alcohol: The CDC notes that effects of alcohol are intensified by age-related physical changes and some medications. Just one drink can dangerously degrade coordination and response time.
  • Drive during daylight: Vision problems make night driving challenging. Limit driving to daytime as much as possible to maximize visibility.
  • Know medication effects: Consult your doctor on potential driving side effects. Take prescribed dosages and stick to over-the-counter directions.
  • Get annual vision exams: Keep up with glasses prescriptions and address impairments early to maintain visual clarity.
  • Stay physically active: Regular exercise helps keep joints limber, muscles conditioned, and reaction time quick.

Frequently Asked Questions About Older Driver Distractions

Which type of distraction tends to occur most often for older drivers?

The most common distraction for drivers over 65 is external distractions, primarily rubbernecking or looking away from the road at various objects, events or people. This pulls visual attention away from the key task of driving.

Are older drivers more susceptible to technology distractions in the vehicle?

While external distractions occur more frequently overall, research shows that older drivers aged 55-75 have particular difficulty managing in-vehicle technology distractions. The cognitive, visual and manual demands of interacting with touchscreens and infotainment systems during driving exceed their capacities.

How can age-related vision changes increase crash risks?

Conditions like cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration degrade visual acuity, depth perception, contrast sensitivity and ability to see in low light. With compromised vision, distractions that shift eyes away from the road become even more hazardous for older drivers.

How does arthritis impact the driving abilities of seniors?

Arthritis in hands and feet can make it harder for older adults to grasp and turn the steering wheel, press pedals, and maneuver the gear shift. Any activity requiring them to remove hands from the wheel, like interacting with technology, becomes unsafe.

Why do cognitive declines affect safe driving as we age?

Reduced ability to quickly process information, multitask, recall instructions, and react swiftly impacts driving safety. With slowed reflexes, distractions prevent prompt responses to other cars, pedestrians and traffic signals. Dementia exacerbates these issues.

What is the safest time of day for older adults to drive?

Driving during daylight hours is safest for older motorists dealing with visual impairments. Reduced visibility and glare at night further degrade compromised vision, so limiting driving to daytime maximizes safety.

How can medications impact driving abilities in older adults?

Some prescription and over-the-counter medications have side effects like dizziness, altered coordination, confusion and drowsiness that can impair driving. Older adults should understand medication effects and avoid driving when impaired.


In conclusion, while external distractions like rubbernecking are most common, older drivers must also limit technology use, conversations, and other activities diverting attention from the road. Age-related functional decline increases susceptibility to distractions and crash risk. Steps like minimizing distractions, avoiding alcohol, sticking to daytime driving, and getting vision exams help older motorists compensate for age-related changes and drive more safely for longer.

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