Dec. 3 – 7, 2018, Is Older Driver Safety Awareness Week

Senior woman driver gives a thumbs up

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 20 percent of drivers on the road today are older than 65, and older adults are staying behind the wheel longer — a 50 percent increase since 1999.

But the normal physical and cognitive changes of aging, as well as the effects of many common health conditions, can make it unsafe for older adults to drive. Visual impairment, hearing loss, reduced manual dexterity and slower thinking all increase the risk of a car crash. The CDC also notes that 80 percent of older adults take at least one medication, and many of these drugs can affect the ability to concentrate and drive safely.

Will you be visiting with older loved ones during the holidays? Maybe Mom or Dad will be picking you up at the airport? This could be a good time to talk about their driving. In August 2018, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reported that only a small minority of seniors talk about driving safety with their loved ones — and it's usually only after an accident that the subject comes up. The AAA Foundation also found that on average, seniors drive for seven to 10 years longer than it's safe to do so.

Start the talk early.

The right time to hang up the car keys varies among older adults. Some are safe drivers even into their 90s. But AAA Foundation's Executive Director Dr. David Yang urges families to begin the conversation early on. He says, "Older drivers can be hesitant to initiate conversations about their driving capabilities, so it is important that families encourage them to talk early and often about their future behind the wheel. With early discussion and proper planning, elderly drivers may extend their time on the road."

Dr. Yang offers one bit of advice that goes against the usual "have a family meeting" strategy. He says this is one of those times when a one-to-one talk often is better, making it less likely that a loved one will feel defensive and ganged up on. Focus on the facts, and ensure that the older adult is treated as a full participant in any plans for "driving retirement."

Do your homework.

What are the transportation options when and if a senior in your family decides to stop driving? If there's a bus line or rapid transit near your loved one's home, invite them on a "field trip" so they can learn the ropes. Your community may have senior transportation options. Taking a cab might not seem so pricey if you compare it with the costs of owning and operating a car. And today, more seniors are taking advantage of ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft. If your family uses in-home care to support the well-being of older loved ones, transportation can be part of the care plan.

Encourage your loved one to take a brush-up course.

Maybe it's not yet necessary for your loved one to stop driving. A number of organizations offer senior driver ed courses. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) is the sponsor of Older Driver Safety Awareness Week, and these professionals offer some great resources for senior drivers and their families. This year, the organization is taking a "days of the week" approach — everything from evaluating a loved one's driving to facilitating tough conversations about giving up the car keys. A top tip: Before you even begin the conversation about driving cessation, have your research about those transportation options at the ready to share with your loved one.

Give the car a checkup.

Senior couple in a car

And maybe the car itself is the problem. Have the mirrors, steering wheel and seat evaluated. Add adaptive equipment to accommodate the driver's limitations. (AOTA offers a list of possibilities.) Or, maybe it's time for a new car. There's a bit of a learning curve, but senior drivers can benefit from today's advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) — technologies such as cameras, blind spot monitoring, collision warnings and lane departure warning systems.

One note of caution: Experts tell us that drivers can put too much trust in these driver assistance features. "When properly utilized, ADAS technologies have the potential to prevent 40 percent of all vehicle crashes and nearly 30 percent of traffic deaths," said Dr. Yang. "However, driver understanding and proper use are crucial in reaping the full safety benefits of these systems. There is still a lot of work to be done in educating drivers about proper use of ADAS technologies and their limitations." The AAA Foundation urges automakers and car dealerships to provide improved information and training for consumers who purchase cars with ADAS technologies.

Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.