Most drivers don’t even think about whether they’re mentally and physically capable of driving. But driving does require a level of ‘fitness’ to be safe on the road.

So what determines driver fitness?

Your Vision

It makes sense that you need to see to drive, but it’s not just what you see in front of you that matters. You also need to see what’s happening on each side plus be able to determine the distance between you and others.

Common vision conditions that can affect driving are:

  • Loss of visual acuity (near or far sighted)
  • Cataracts
  • Glaucoma
  • Diabetes retinopathy

Your Physical Abilities

To drive safely you need to operate the controls and react quickly. This requires a certain amount of physical ability including:

  • Range of motion (flexibility)
  • Reaction time
  • Balance and coordination
  • Strength
  • Proprioception (sense and movement of your body’s position)
  • Peripheral sensation (feeling) in your lower extremities

Conditions that can affect your motor abilities include:

  • Neurological impairments (Parkinson’s, MS, stroke, brain injury, etc)
  • Injured (or loss of) limbs
  • Arthritis
  • Obesity

Thinking Abilities

Most of the time you don’t notice, but while driving, you do a lot of thinking. This is because driving is an ‘over-learned’ activity. We do it automatically.

But there are conditions that can affect cognitive abilities, including:

  • Neurological disorders (e.g. Parkinson’s disease, MS, Alzheimer disease and other dementias)
  • Mental health disorders (e.g. anxiety, depression)
  • Sleep disorders (e.g. sleep apnea)
  • Brain injury (e.g. concussions)

So what can you do to make sure you’re fit to drive? You can:

  1. Have your vision checked regularly by an opthamologist or optometrist to make sure your vision is good enough to drive. And if you need glasses, wear them.
  2. Keep active. Include activities that maintain your range of motion, muscle strength and flexibility.
  3. If you have problems with your motor abilities, see a kinesiologist, physiotherapist or occupational therapist to see if there are exercises or other interventions that can help.
  4. Keep your brain active. Participating in a variety of activities has been found to be helpful in maintaining brain health (e.g. socializing, learning, playing games, teaching others)
  5. If you have a medical condition or injury that could affect your cognitive abilities talk to your doctor about it’s impact on driving.
  6. Have your driving assessed by a certified driving instructor. Not only can they tell you if you are fit to drive, they can help you learn skills to make you safe or overcome some impairments.
  7. If you have been told you are not fit to drive...don’t.

Paying attention to your fitness to drive is essential to keeping yourself and everyone else on the road safe.


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