How Seniors Can Become Safer Drivers

According to AAA (American Automobile Association), “Experts agree that driving ability generally begins to deteriorate at age 55.” Of course, everyone is different, but certain physical limitations like decreased neck flexibility (see AAA Foundation’s brochure with driving-specific flexibility exercises) and deteriorating eyesight begin to surface at about that age. It is common for people to feel that their many years of driving experience qualifies them to be better drivers, and drivers in their 50s and 60s actually do have lower crash rates compared to other age groups.  However, research shows that crash rates increase as drivers approach age 70 and certainly increase after age 75. 

Organizations like AAA and AARP provide senior drivers and their families access to various tools to evaluate current driving abilities. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety offers a survey online for drivers to measure their own performance on the road. Drivers 65 Plus: Check Your Own Performance is a 15-question survey that gives a driver immediate feedback about whether or not driving is still a good idea. An added benefit to this survey is the detailed list of suggestions that is generated in relation to the individual’s answers, which helps drivers make adjustments to become safer drivers.

AARP offers online and classroom driver safety courses for seniors. Their curriculum covers topics like minimizing dangerous blind spots, monitoring your own driving abilities and those of other drivers, the effects of medications on driving, and the importance of eliminating distractions. You can locate a class in your area at the AARP website.  Click here to locate an AARP class near you

How do you know when it’s time for you or a loved one to consider a driver safety program? You don’t want to wait until an accident has happened, especially one that could have been prevented with a few safety precautions. 

CarFit Program – Make your car safer.

CarFit is an educational program that offers advice on improving your car’s safety.  Created by the American Society on Aging, AAA, AARP, and the American Occupational Therapy Association, CarFit shows seniors how well their cars “fit” them and what changes they can make to the car for a safer fit.

Examples of CarFit’s 12 key areas which improve road safety include: 

  1. Mirrors – Knowing how to properly adjust car mirrors can greatly minimize blind spots when changing lanes.
  2. Pedal position – Good foot positioning on the gas and brake pedals can decrease fatigue and increase reaction times.
  3. Distance from the steering wheel – Drivers run the risk of serious injury if they are sitting closer than 10 inches to the steering wheel.

Drivers can download an informational CarFit brochure with helpful hints for safer driving. Click here to download.

Or, find a CarFit event near you where professionals will assess you and your vehicle.Click here to see a list of CarFit events.

AAA notes these as signs of diminished capacity for driving safely:

    • Having a series of minor accidents or near misses.
    • Having wandering thoughts or being unable to concentrate.
    • Being unable to read ordinary road signs.
    • Getting lost on familiar roads.
    • Having other drivers honk at you frequently.
    • Being spoken to about your driving by police, family, and friends.

At the time you or a senior loved one experience any of these signs, consider learning more about becoming a better driver through one of the many quality senior driving programs. Seniors can keep themselves and others safe by learning more about how to drive on the roads today. 

An added benefit of taking a senior safety driving course is that many insurance companies will offer discounts to seniors who have completed a course, thereby reducing insurance premiums. Check with your insurance company for the safe driving programs they recognize for senior discounts.

Senior driving is such an important issue that researchers at theAgeLab at MIT University are spending time and money to know more about what senior drivers are truly encountering on the road. They are using two devices to study senior driving and the risks involved with natural aging, disease, medication, or other conditions. “Miss Rosie” is a Volkswagen Beetle that is equipped with instruments to measure a driver’s physical attributes like spinal mobility and required strength while operating a vehicle. “Miss Daisy” is a vehicle simulator with sensors attached to the accelerator, brake and steering wheel. The driver receives feedback about their visual, auditory and kinetic responses to highway, rural, urban, and desert driving situations. Both machines help researchers and the driving industry understand what the senior driver is faced with and can develop effective senior driving programs, therefore lengthening the time that senior drivers can stay behind the wheel.

If a senior loved one in your life is at the point where it may be unsafe to be behind the wheel, be sensitive. Having a driver’s license is more than just the ability to drive a car; it is also a symbol of freedom and self-sufficiency. Most people do not give up the right to drive willingly, even if he or she would agree that driving has become more difficult. To begin the conversation, one method is to share a story of, “someone you know whose older loved one has….” You can finish this sentence in a way that lines up with your situation: been in many accidents, or who caused injury to themselves, or had their insurance rates increase because of these incidents. The AAA and AARPwebsites also offer suggestions on how to begin conversations with senior loved ones about their driving.

By the year 2025, senior drivers will make up 20 percent of the driving population (Bloomberg News, 2010). In November 2010, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), for the first time in its 40-year existence, studied safety issues for older drivers.  NTSB may use its findings to recommend car or road designs that would be safer for aging drivers and may even address medical-related issues for licensing drivers who have limitations because of dementia. With so much attention focused on driver education and promoting safer driving for seniors, senior drivers can take advantage of opportunities to learn how to keep themselves safe on the road and driving longer.

This article by The Society of Certified Senior Advisors

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