Driving in older age: should your parent still be driving?

For a lot of people, driving is an important element of an independent life. However, as your parent gets older, you may be concerned about their ability to drive, and whether they are driving legally and safely.  

As people age, their eyesight and reaction times diminish while the driving environment and technology is constantly changing. On the one hand, you might be worried that their driving is getting poorer, and not be certain whether or not they should still be driving. On the other, you want to ensure they maintain independence and can drive for as long as it remains safe and legal for them to do so.

Learn the rules for driving in old age, how to help them continue to drive legally and safely if they still can, and how to talk about the issue if it is time for them to stop.

Rules for driving in old age: renewing a driving licence at 70

In the UK, there is no definitive age when people have to stop driving. However, when a person reaches 70 years old, their driving licence will automatically expire and becomes invalid. This does not mean that they have to suddenly stop driving but it does mean that to continue driving they will need to renew their licence with the DVLA, and then regularly renew it every three years thereafter (i.e., at the age of 73, 76, 79 etc).

Most people do not need to take a new driving test to renew their licence – they just need to complete the renewal form, which is a relatively easy process, but they must renew to have a valid licence. On the form, any medical conditions, medications or changes to their circumstances need to be reported, as some may prohibit them from driving. You can be fined up to £1,000 if you do not tell DVLA about a medical condition that affects your driving.

The DVLA will automatically send out a renewal form (called the D46P form) three months before their 70th birthday. It’s important they complete and send back the form as soon as possible after they have received it. The cost to renew is free of charge.

If they do not automatically receive a renewal form or the form gets lost, you can get a copy of the same D46P form from the DVLA website or from a Post Office.

Note: If their driving licence expires and it is not renewed, then they are legally not allowed to drive!

How do I know if my parent is still fit to drive?

If your parent has developed a new medical condition or if an existing condition has worsened and you think it might impact their ability to drive, then legally they need to inform the DVLA – even if they have a current licence and are not about to renew.

There are a range of medical conditions that, when diagnosed by a healthcare professional, need to be declared to the DVLA. This includes dementia, diabetes, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, or any conditions that mean a loss of sight in one or both eyes. You can check for a complete list on the Gov.uk website.

If they do inform the DVLA of a new condition, it does not automatically mean that they will lose their licence and no longer be able to drive. Once informed, the DVLA will likely ask if they can contact your parent’s GP or consultant and might also recommend that they go for a driving ability assessment.

After the DVLA has considered the case, there are a range of outcomes including no change, issuing your parent with a short-term licence for just a year or two with a follow-up evaluation after this time, or cancelling their licence.

If they have been told not to drive for a medical reason, then they might want to consider speaking to their doctor to ask if the condition is likely to improve – and then consider re-applying for a new licence if that is the case and their condition improves.

Note: Any medical condition declared a to the DVLA also needs to be declared to the car insurance provider – if it isn’t then it’s likely that the policy will be invalid and your parent will not be covered in the event of an accident.

Eyesight and driving

You might remember back to your driving test – you will have been asked to read a number plate from a distance or a similar test. This legal requirement that your eyesight is of a certain standard does not change. To continue to drive, older people need to have good vision that meets the DVLA standard.

If your parent starts to need glasses or contact lenses to reach the driving standard eyesight, then they need to continue to wear these when they are driving.

However, if they lose eyesight in one eye, then they need to take a new test to prove that they have sufficient vision in one eye to drive. The RNIB has a range of helpful documents on how to manage this change – and it will take time to adjust. (Note that this is a significant change in a health condition an so you must notify DVLA of this change.)

Driving ability assessments

It’s not obligatory for an older person to retake their driving test just because they have turned 70. However, the DVLA might ask them to take a driving ability assessment if they have a medical condition. Or, your parent may feel it’s helpful to have a refresher to keep up to date with the latest regulations and changes to the driving environment.

There are assessment centres around the UK provided by the RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) and IAM Roadsmart (previously known as the Institute of Advanced Motorists); you can find your local centre on either of their websites.

If the DVLA has asked your parent to take a driving ability assessment, then it will pay for the assessment. If your parent decides to do this for themselves, then they will have to pay the fees which will vary by provider so it’s good to enquire before booking.

How do you renew a driving licence after 70?

You can renew a driving licence after 70 either online or by post. Either of these methods will take around three-four weeks for the DVLA to process and send back the new licence.

Renewing by post: Complete the renewal form sent by the DVLA and attach the existing driving licence with new passport-size photographs as described in the form.

Renewing online: Renewing online is quicker than by post. You should receive the new licence within a week if you apply online at the Gov.uk website. To complete the online renewal form, you will need an email address and your parent’s current driving licence. If you want to change the photograph, you will also need their passport and National Insurance number.

If you need to talk to the DVLA to ask questions, you can contact their helpline on 0300 790 6801.

Can my parent still drive while their licence is being renewed?

If you or they have sent the DVLA the renewal form and are waiting for your parent’s new licence, then they are still allowed to drive so long as they meet various requirements:

  • They had a valid licence before you started the renewal process
  • Their doctor has allowed them to drive
  • They have no new medical condition
  • They have not been disqualified from driving

How do I stop my parent from driving?

If your parent has no medical conditions to declare and is still eligible to drive, you may still be concerned about their driving. As your parents get older, their driving knowledge might not keep up with current regulations, or you might have a very real sense that their ability to concentrate or reaction speed has changed.

Talking to your parents about their ability to drive safely is a tough conversation. They will definitely see this as limit to their independence and their ability to live the life they used to enjoy.

Conversations like this depend so much on the personality of your parent – if they are analytical (so perhaps were an engineer or like facts, or tackle tasks in an orderly way) then you might want to talk about the changes in regulations, the safety elements, and lay out the facts. In contrast, if you parent is intuitive (so tends to make decisions from a gut feeling) then perhaps talk about the way this might impact others on the road, their own safety.

If you find it too difficult or emotional a topic to discuss in detail, you might suggest that they go on a voluntary driving ability assessment that will remove any personal element as a third-party expert driver will assess your parent’s driving and recommend if they can or cannot drive safely.

How can I help my parent if they can no longer drive?

Giving up driving at any age is a significant step – most people associate the ability to drive with independence and freedom. If your parent has been told that they can no longer drive, for whatever reason, or if they have decided to give up voluntarily, then it will take time to adjust to new ways of travel.

Taxis are of course a good alternative if your parent has to stop driving. Outside bigger cities, it’s worth registering them with a local taxi company (if they aren’t already), so they know your relative’s home address and can pick them up and drop them off easily. You might consider setting up an account to avoid problems with cash and security of payments.

In larger cities local taxi companies have mostly given way to apps like Uber, Bolt, and Lyft. But for a lot of older people, these apps can sometimes be tricky to navigate – especially if eyesight is a problem or they have struggled to keep up with modern technology. It’s still worth googling to see if there are any local mini-cab firms in their area of the city for them to register with. If they are comfortable with using the apps, check out Uber Assist – an option for those who need additional assistance in a standard UberX vehicle.

For travel further afield, look up the fabulous https://seat61.com site that provides in-depth articles and information to travel by train anywhere in the world… by train.

In summary

For a lot of people, driving can be an important part of an independent life. Any change – or even the idea of change – can be worrying and difficult to adapt to without help and support.

There is no definitive age when someone has to stop driving in the UK – but everyone has to renew their licence at the age of 70 and then every three years if they want to continue. If your parent or elder relative has any changes in their health or mobility and you are concerned that they shouldn’t be driving, then you should check this list to see if they need to inform the DVLA. You can be fined up to £1,000 if you do not tell DVLA about a medical condition that affects your driving.

If they are still eligible to drive but you are concerned about their driving, you could also ask them to take a voluntary assessment, to bring them up to date with current driving regulations and get an independent third-party view on their skills.

Common questions

  • How much does it cost to renew a licence at 70?

Currently there is no cost to renew a licence at 70 and no charge to renew every three years after that.

  • Which health conditions need to be declared to the DVLA?

There are a number of health conditions that must be reported to the DVLA – a list of these can be found on the Gov.uk website. Failure to declare a medical condition that affects your driving can result in a £1000 fine.

  • Do you have to retake a driving test at 70 UK?

No, you are not obliged to take a test but you do need to renew your driving licence at 70 and then every three years thereafter if you want to continue to drive a car. When renewing, you have to declare any medical conditions and that your eyesight meets the minimum requirement for driving.

  • Can you get a blue badge for older drivers?

A Blue Badge is very useful for older drivers with mobility issues or their carers who need to drive them – it allows you to park closer without many of the normal restrictions. Read our short guide to Applying for Blue Badge parking.

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