People 65 and older are the fastest growing driving demographic in the United States. The “baby boomers” are becoming grandparents and it is estimated that by 2020, there will be 40 million licensed drivers 65 or older. This means millions of families will soon be looking for answers about issues surrounding senior mobility as well as the resources that are available to help keep their loved one safe behind the wheel.
This week (December 5th-9th) is Older Driver Safety Awareness Week and I thought it would be an excellent time to share my thoughts on this subject. First, both the AAA Foundation and AAA Clubs are not in the business of taking the keys out of the hands of senior drivers. In fact, we are dedicated to helping keep seniors driving safely for longer. That’s why the Foundation encourages seniors to assess their driving abilities with programs like Roadwise Review and use training tools like DriveSharp to help maintain cognitive abilities critical to safe driving. It is our belief that the decision to stop driving should not be based on age, but on the ability to drive safely.
However, let’s be realistic, there are issues associated with aging that can’t be changed. Take vision and lighting, for example. People need far more light to see objects clearly as they get older, which can undoubtedly have an impact on someone’s driving ability. Mature drivers can address this issue by planning trips during the day and avoiding driving late at night or in foggy, rainy weather when it can be difficult to see.
Another issue of concern is the use of medications and the impact they can have on the ability to drive safely. We’ve all seen the warning labels that read “Do not operate heavy machinery”. Well those definitely apply when it comes to medications and driving. A 2009 AAA Foundation study found that about two-thirds of seniors take five or more medications every day. Many of these drugs can impair driving, especially in combination with other meds. But, just over a quarter of people surveyed in this study reported knowing that they were taking substances that could affect their driving. Knowing what you’re taking and how it affects you is critical for your safety.
The greatest challenge for many families is simply acknowledging the issue and talking about it. While this can be difficult, the earlier that discussion happens with your loved one, the easier it will be to make a plan of action. Many seniors are afraid they will be losing their independence if they can’t drive and don’t want to become a burden on family or friends. However, people are often unaware of the alternative transportation options that are available to help make this transition easier for everyone.
Seniors are important contributors within the community and we want to see them continue to travel safely – whether that’s behind the wheel, on foot or via public transportation. We want seniors and their families to be aware of the programs that can help extend the driving experience as well as the resources that are available when it is time for them to give up the keys.