Older drivers with a history of falling are 40 percent more likely to be involved in crashes than their peers, according to a new study released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
“The bottom line is that falls limit an older drivers’ ability to function behind the wheel and can make driving riskier for themselves and others,” said Chuck Mai, spokesman for AAA Oklahoma. “These findings are important because each year 12 million older adults experience a fall and drivers age 60 and older are involved in more than 400,000 crashes annually. Now we use an older driver’s fall history to predict their likelihood of being in a crash.”
Researchers say that falls can increase an older driver’s crash risk in two ways:
- Falls can result in a loss of functional ability (i.e. wrist fractures or a broken leg), which can make it difficult for older drivers to steer or brake to avoid a crash.
- Falls can increase an individual’s fear of falling, which can lead to a decrease in physical activity that weakens driving skills.
“When it comes to physical health, you either use it or lose it,” said Mai. “Falls often scare people into being less active, but decreasing physical activity can weaken muscles and coordination and make someone more likely to be in a crash.”
The report, Associations Between Falls and Driving Outcomes in Older Adults, is the latest research released in the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers (LongROAD) project. Research was conducted by the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
The study suggests that seniors and their families should view falls as a possible early indicator of declining physical fitness. Addressing the health issues that originally led to the fall such as lower body weakness, poor balance, slow reaction time, certain medications, dizziness, or vision problems, can help older drivers strengthen their functional ability and lower their risk for crashing or experiencing another fall in the future.
“Older drivers should find activities that enhance balance, strengthen muscles and promote flexibility,” said Mai. “Even a low-impact fitness training program or driver improvement course can help safely extend an older driver’s years on the road.”
Fall prevention is a great way for older drivers to keep themselves and others safe while on the road.
Those concerned about a parent or other older driver should help them monitor risk factors that address health concerns or household dangers. AAA recommends a series of exercises and stretches to improve neck, shoulder, trunk, back and overall body flexibility, which can help a driver who has suffered from a recent fall.
AAA also offers a variety of programs and resources to help older drivers improve their driving performance and avoid crashes.