Seniors face challenges while driving

Nationally, nearly 10,000 Americans turn 65 each day as part of the large Baby Boomer generation and many expect to work and remain active longer than their parents did, prolonging their need to drive.

AAA Oklahoma has research, tips and resources to help senior drivers stay safe on the roads.

“Senior drivers can help reduce their risk on the road by updating their general driving knowledge and skills through a defensive driving refresher course, and self-regulating when and where they choose to drive,” said Chuck Mai, spokesman for AAA Oklahoma. “Some drivers may need to go a step further and have an objective assessment of their driving skills, which is also a good way to start the conversation about planning for a driving retirement, if it hasn’t already started.”

Earlier this year, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released a report that found older drivers with a history of falling are 40 percent more likely to be involved in crashes than their peers.

Falls limit an older drivers’ ability to function behind the wheel and can make driving risky for themselves and others on the road.

Researchers from The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus along with the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety say that falls can increase 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.

The AAA Foundation’s July 2015 report on Driving Cessation and Health Outcomes for Older Adults examined declines in general health and physical, social, and cognitive functions in former drivers. With the cessation of driving, the study found:

  • Diminished productivity and low participation in daily life activities outside of the home;
  • Risk of depression nearly doubled;
  • Former drivers were five times as likely to be admitted to a long term care facility;
  • Accelerated decline in cognitive ability over a 10-year period;
  • 51 percent reduction in the size of social networks over a 13-year period.

Tips for Older Drivers and Their Families

  • One of the first steps in addressing older driver safety is having a non-threatening conversation with loved ones. Friends and family play a major role in discussions about older driver safety, and it’s better to start the conversation early, allowing time for planning and exploration of options long before any crisis or incident.
  • Just as you plan for retirement, it’s important to plan for a driving retirement and future transportation needs. Proactive, planning is vital to continued independence and safety.
  • Seniors – schedule a health check-up. An exam may identify problems before they start.
  • Services described as “driving fitness evaluations” may seem confusing, as they range from self-assessments to a basic skills assessment to a professional comprehensive driving evaluation from an occupational therapy driving rehabilitation specialist. It’s important for older drivers and their family members to understand the driving service they are getting so they can act on the results in a meaningful way.