If you're not as comfortable behind the wheel as you used to be, you may find yourself cutting back on your driving. For instance, if you're less confident at night, on motorways, in busy areas or on long journeys (particularly in bad weather), you might decide to arrange some other form of transportation—just in those instances. And then in the future (should you decide to stop driving entirely), a gradual reduction over time might make a more significant adjustment easier.
For other people, the decision is more straightforward. That happens when the time they spend on the road is determined by the Driver & Licence Vehicle Agency (DVLA).
Legal driving requirements
There are various laws that outline the medical requirements for driving.
You must tell the DVLA if you develop certain medical conditions or disabilities—or if a condition or disability you have is worse than it was when you first got your licence. Conditions include:
- epilepsy or strokes (or other neurological conditions);
- mental health conditions; or
- physical disabilities.
Keep in mind it is illegal to drive under these conditions without informing the DVLA, so if you are unsure about what to do, ask your GP or contact the DVLA directly.
Declaring that you have a condition doesn’t necessarily mean you need to give up driving, but the DVLA will consider whether you have met the standards for driving based on different information (such as your GP’s report or an eye test). Based on your condition, the DVLA might make other recommendations (like a driving mobility assessment) to help you keep your licence. For more information, see the DVLA's explanation of medical conditions, disabilities and driving.
To drive legally, you must be able to read a number plate (specifically, it must be one of the smaller number plates made after September 2001) from 20 meters or 67 feet away. An optician will be able to tell you if you meet the minimum eyesight standard for driving, which includes having an adequate field of vision. If you don’t meet this standard, you will have to give up your licence.
If you have certain health conditions like diabetes or glaucoma, the NHS might recommend that you have your eyes tested more often.
Your driving licence will expire when you reach the age of 70. The DVLA will automatically send you a renewal form 90 days before your 70th birthday.
To renew your licence, you must answer questions about your health and eyesight. You must also declare that you are still fit to drive. There is no driving test or medical examination, and it’s free to reapply.
Once you’ve renewed your license, you have to reapply every three years. Visit GOV.UK to renew your driving licence online if you're 70 or over.
If you still want to drive
If you meet the health requirements and still want to drive, there are a few things you can do to feel more confident behind the wheel.
A simple self-assessment can help to reassure you that your driving is safe. It may also be a good way to find out how to improve your driving.
Many organisations—including some local councils—provide driving assessments for experienced drivers. The cost of an assessment varies (it's generally in the range of £50), lasts for about an hour and requires you to drive with an assessor on roads near where you live. Afterwards, you'll get a report about your driving along with recommendations regarding possible improvements or further training. If you need to drive for work, your employer might even arrange an assessment or training course for you.
To find a reliable assessment resource, check out the following suggestions:
- Aviva Driver Assessment Hour from IAM RoadSmart
- Driving Assessments from RoSPA (the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents)
- Self Assessment checklist from OlderDrivers.org.uk
You can also contact your GP if you'd rather speak to someone in person about your driving.
Tune up your driving skills
If you are uncertain about your driving ability, you might voluntarily decide to take refresher training to brush up your skills. These courses are provided by local driving schools and instructors.
Refresher driver training courses usually involve one or more sessions with an instructor in your own car (and around your neighbourhood). The instructor should give you tips on how to improve your driving and help you practise.
Adapt your car
After you finish your driving assessment, you might decide to make changes to your car. In some instance, your GP or the DVLA could make a referral for you to have a mobility assessment. You can also self-refer if you want a qualified assessor to recommend suitable modifications for your car (so it is safe for you to drive).
The assessor may suggest a few adaptations for your car. For instance, a steering ball could be better for you than a traditional steering wheel. You may be able to get help paying for these adaptations if you receive one of the following benefits:
- Personal Independence Payment (at the higher or enhanced rate);
- Disability Living Allowance; or
- War Pensioner’s Mobility Supplement.
The Motability Scheme has more information on your transportation options. You can also use the Turn2Us Benefits and Grants search tool to apply for a grant from a charity that will help to pay for adaptations.
If the DVLA recommend the assessment, there is no charge. Otherwise, the costs vary depending on the centre where you take it. For the mobility assessment centre nearest you, visit Find a centre on the Driving Mobility website.
And if you're thinking about buying a newer car, certain features (like power steering, automatic gears and parking sensors) might make driving easier for you. However, these features can be pricey, so just make sure to keep that in mind when setting the budget for your purchase.
If you decide not to drive
If you decide you no longer want to drive, don't be too worried about how you will adapt to this new stage in your life. However, it is a good idea to discuss the matter with your friends and family. They might be able to make suggestions that can help you change—for the better—the way you go about your daily routine.
It might also be helpful if you think about the positive aspects of this decision. First of all, running a car can be a fairly big investment. Just think about it—no more expensive petrol, insurance, taxes and repairs!
As for the stress associated with driving, you won’t get stuck behind the wheel in long traffic jams, nor will you have the hassle of searching for places to park on busy streets.
Giving up your car is not only good news for your mental health, it's also means you could have reason to walk more—making it better for your physical health as well.
And last—but not least—it can be good for the environment too.
Explore your options
There are many ways in which you can get around without a car. This includes taxis, public transport, Dial-A-Ride and mobility scooters.
Paying for a taxi is certainly cheaper than running a car, especially if you only do it every so often. You may even be able to set up an account with a taxi company and agree a set price for your weekly journeys.
Once you reach the state pension age, you can get a free bus pass from your local council to travel across the country. You might also be entitled to one if you have certain disabilities (which don't necessarily have to be physical), but you would have to contact your local council, because each council sets different criteria. You can find your local council on the GOV.UK website.
If you are aged 60 or over (or have certain disabilities), you are also entitled to buy a one-year railcard which gives you (and if you are disabled, a travel companion too) discounted travel during non-peak times. Find out about the Senior Railcard or the Disabled Persons Railcard from the National Rail website.
If you live in London and are aged 60 (or have certain disabilities), you can apply for a Freedom Pass, which will give you free travel on any Transport for London network (some conditions apply).
Community transport or Dial-A-Ride schemes operate in many different areas and can offer free or low cost travel to a range of locations straight from your front door. You can Find out about community transport services and Shopmobility from the GOV.UK site. Note that this service is available in England and Wales only.
A mobility scooter might be the right choice for you if you want to make short journeys and can travel on your own without too much trouble. Just keep in mind that you will have to be able to steer the scooter (which shouldn't be a huge challenge for former drivers), and you might need to get on and off the scooter yourself. The Motability website provides a good description of the different Types of scooters. The site also has an Eligibility Checker tool you can use if you'd like to join the Motability Scheme (to help you lease a scooter or powered wheelchair if you receive the qualifying benefits).
Other ways to get around
Of course there are other ways to travel, which have their own social benefits. If walking isn't practical for you, why not find out if you can get lifts from friends and family, or ask people to visit you (rather than the other way around)? Other people can be very understanding of your situation, and giving you a lift or coming over to you might not take much effort on their part.
However, if you live in an area where you could easily become isolated, you might need to move somewhere with better public transport facilities.
What you can do from the comfort of your home
Finally, there's the convenience of online shopping—which can be a great way to get what you need if you don't have a car. Most large chains offer these services, which are really helpful when you don't want to carry your purchases home.
If you are not a confident computer user, there are courses available to help you learn the basics and get started online. Abilitynet's IT Support at Home service can arrange for a volunteer to come and visit you at home, and Online Centres also provide free or low cost computer courses around the country. For more information on the benefits of computer courses, visit the Tech Talk section of Jewish Care Interact.
Regardless of how and why you decide to modify your driving habits, you really can still be independent without a car. Best of all, it can be a great way to help you save some money and reduce your overall stress in life.