Older drivers are changing their driving habits because of a lack of confidence or discomfort while behind the wheel, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

But the AAA said some of the self-regulated changes older drivers make like avoiding driving at night, on the freeway, in afternoon rush hour traffic or in unfamiliar areas can be unnecessary and do not always improve safety.

“When older drivers become uncomfortable in certain driving situations, some may assume they have to live with the discomfort while others unnecessarily reduce their mobility,” said Dr David Yang, Executive Director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

“By addressing issues of discomfort early, older drivers can learn more about age-related changes to their body and discuss strategies with their healthcare provider to best compensate for declines.”

Researchers from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety partnered with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) to evaluate how older drivers’ (ages 65-79) comfort levels on the road affects their driving behaviors.

Using GPS data loggers to track driving patterns, they found that older drivers who report lower comfort driving at night, during afternoon rush hour, on the freeway and in unfamiliar areas also self-regulate their behavior to reduce or avoid driving in those situations.

The study said some changes could create unintended consequences on the roadway. For example, using side streets to avoid the freeway could increase an older drivers’ risk of a crash by increasing the distance travelled and their exposure on the road.

The AAA recommends that older drivers consult a healthcare professional when feelings of driving discomfort arise in order to extend their mobility and reduce risk on the road.