Reviewing your driving skills

It's important to review and renew our driving skills throughout our driving careers.

Road rules and technology change over time - what we learned when we were first driving may no longer be correct.

New Zealand drivers should aim to regularly review their driving skills - and this is especially important for older drivers. Excellent driving skills and confidence on the road can help to mitigate some of the physical and mental changes that are a part of the normal ageing process.

There are tips below about how to manage common driving challenges. In some cases, such as driving at night or driving in bad weather, the safest decision might be to delay your journey or find alternative transportation.

Managing slow reaction times

We can change our driving habits to avoid situations that require us to react especially quickly (such as driving on busy roads during rush hour).

We can also help manage our changing reaction times by adjusting our vehicle (such as mirrors and distance from the wheel) to ensure our car setup increases our ability to drive safely.

Keeping physically and mentally fit is also good for our reaction times. However, there are also other things we can do to keep us driving safely for longer. These include:

Increasing our following distance

Allow a greater distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you.  This way you’ll have more time to slow down or stop if needed.

Planning the route before we get behind the wheel

Doing this will help you to avoid making any last-minute decisions about which way to turn or how to reach your destination.

Reviewing the medications we take

Some prescription and over-the-counter medications can slow reflexes, blur vision and cause drowsiness or dizziness. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about whether your medications may affect your driving and, if so, how you can manage this.

Learn more about medications and driving

Eliminating distractions inside the vehicle

Adjusting radio volume, using smartphones and intense interaction with passengers is distracting. Keep the environment inside your vehicle as calm and distraction-free as possible.

Staying awake and alert

Drowsy driving is very dangerous and can have terrible consequences. Be sure to get enough sleep before driving and take frequent breaks on long journeys.

Night time driving

Driving at night presents challenges to all drivers. However, it can be especially difficult as we age because:

  • our eyes need more light to be able to see clearly
  • our ability to focus and field of vision is reduced.

Some older drivers limit or discontinue their night driving because they find it too stressful and don’t feel safe. They might only travel close to home on well-lit roads, or they might choose to drive only during the day. The following advice can increase our ability to drive safely at night:

Slow down

Drive slowly enough that you have ample time to stop for an obstacle seen at the far reaches of your headlights. Increase your following distance to four or more seconds behind the car in front where possible.

Keep your eyes moving

Do not focus on the middle of the area illuminated by your headlights. Watch for sudden flashes of light at hilltops, around curves or at intersections. This may indicate oncoming vehicles.

In dim light, focus on the edges or outlines of objects

Your eyes can pick up images more sharply this way than by looking directly at the object.

Protect your eyes from glare 

Prolonged exposure to glare from headlights can temporarily affect your night vision. It can also lead to eyestrain and drowsiness. 

review driving skills