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Driving and dementia

Driving is complex. To do it, you use your manual skills, senses, reflexes, memory, concentration and thinking, all at once. If any one of those things is affected by illness or injury, it reduces your ability to drive safely.

Dementia can affect driving ability in many ways, including:

  • finding your way around
  • remembering which way to turn
  • judging the distance from other cars and objects
  • judging the speed of other cars
  • reaction time
  • hand-eye coordination.

Those changes can start small and subtle, but over time they get worse, until you will eventually need to stop driving, for your and other people’s safety.

Some people feel relief about this, but for most drivers, giving up driving is a very difficult experience. You might feel you’re giving up more than just driving: your identity, your sense of being capable, your independence.

It’s a real loss, and something you might resist at first. That’s normal. It’s also possible that, because dementia affects the way you think, you might not notice these changes, or deny them. It may be someone close to you who notices.

Warning signs for dementia and driving

These are all signs that dementia is seriously affecting your driving:

  • Missing things in your peripheral vision.
  • Noticing traffic signs and signals late, or not at all.
  • Not hearing other cars, horns and sirens.
  • Turning or stopping too late.
  • Getting overwhelmed or angry when more than one thing happens at once.
  • Mixing up the brake and accelerator.
  • Struggling to understand what’s happening.
  • Mixing up left and right.
  • Getting confused or lost on familiar routes.
  • Drifting out of the lane.
  • Struggling to follow maps.
  • Being more angry or stressed when driving.
  • Noticing new bumps or scratches on the car.

Your own driving

If you’re worried about the safety of your driving, it’s time to stop. This is hard, but there are alternatives to driving, and we’ve listed some below. Nothing’s more important than your safety.

If you’ve had a diagnosis of dementia, the law says you must tell:

  1. your car insurance company
  2. your local licensing authority.

Your licensing authority will get you to take a formal assessment — a test to see if you’re still safe to drive.

If you are, they will give you a conditional licence, and you’ll need to take the test again every 12 months. There may be some other restrictions on your licence, too. If the test shows you’re no longer able to drive safely, your licence will be cancelled.

If you don’t tell your licencing authority, or you drive with no licence, or a suspended licence, you can be charged with driving offences.

Find your local licensing authority here:

Australian Capital Territory

New South Wales

Northern Territory


South Australia



Western Australia

It’s okay to talk about how angry, upset or frustrated you feel about this. Driving is important to most people, and it can feel unfair and frightening to lose it. Talk to family, friends or your doctor. You can also contact the National Dementia Helpline any time.

Someone else’s driving

If you’re worried about the safety of someone living with dementia’s driving, it’s okay to talk to them about stopping. Here are some tips for having that conversation:

  • Start discussions as early as possible after diagnosis, at a time when everyone is calm.
  • Where possible, have discussions when there have been changes in medications or health status, rather than during or after a driving incident.
  • Have short and frequent conversations, rather than one long discussion.
  • Concentrate on the person’s strengths and the positive aspects of other options.
  • Acknowledge that giving up driving is hard to do.
  • Normalise the situation — everyone will have to stop driving at some point.
  • Focus on the nature of the disease — many people with dementia have very safe past driving records, but this has no bearing on their safety as a driver with dementia in the future.
  • Be respectful and try to understand how the person with dementia feels.
  • Consider what driving means to the person. It might be a sign of status, a hobby or even a job. Think about ways that this relationship to the car and driving might be addressed in other ways.

You can also talk to the person’s doctor or your licensing authority to discuss your concerns. This is always better with the person’s consent, but you may have to make that choice. The licensing authority may contact the driver and advise that a medical and driving test is necessary.

You can also contact the National Dementia Helpline any time.

For someone in the early stages of dementia, actions such as hiding the keys, taking away a license or disabling the car could seem disrespectful or hostile, and aren’t recommended.

Alternatives to driving

Giving up driving doesn’t mean giving up going places. You can still see friends and family, go to social events, see the places you love. It just might take a little more planning at first.

Things to try:

  • Ask family or friends to give you a lift. If you’ve been driving people around for years, it’s only fair for them to return the favour.
  • Use public transport, taxis or ride sharing apps.
  • Use community transport — contact your local council to see what they offer.
  • Walk short distances — if someone needs to come with you, it’s a chance for a chat.
  • Use home delivery services for food, medical prescriptions and your local library.

Some of these might seem inconvenient or expensive, but they’re easy to get used to, and come with the savings of not having to keep a car on the road.

In the video below, Doctor Theresa Scott takes you through some of the challenges of giving up driving, including:

  • how early planning for eventual driving retirement can be empowering
  • how talking about the meaning of driving and the loss of driving helps you adjust
  • what a medical assessment of driving may look like, and your legal responsibilities.
Dementia expert webinar: driving and dementia, with Dr Theresa Scott
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Last updated
27 November 2023