Older Drivers & Safety

car keysConcern about an oncoming "tsunami wave of fragile, older drivers" has the federal government working overtime to ramp up its safety programs aimed at older drivers.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (or NHTSA), drivers 65 and older are more likely to die or suffer injuries than younger drivers, even in slower speed crashes. An 85-year-old driver is 1.77 times more likely to get a moderate or severe injury in a crash when compared with drivers between ages 35 and 54.

"Although older people are more mobile than past generations, they are still at a disadvantage compared to younger people when it comes to their ability to tolerate injury," according to the NHTSA.

"Despite a decline in overall traffic fatalities in recent years, the fatality rate for older drivers increased by 3% in 2012, with a total of 5,560 deaths nationwide. Another 214,000 older drivers were injured in crashes, a 16% increase from the year before."

Older drivers are some of the safest on the road since they tend to drive slower, fewer miles, and less often at night when driving visibility is diminished.

However, older drivers, especially after age 75, have a higher risk of being involved in a collision when accidents are calculated on a miles driven per accident basis. Their fatality rate increases slightly after age 65 and significantly after age 75 as older drivers cannot withstand the physical trauma that often occurs during a crash.

Deciding when to talk to an older driver about driving, and perhaps taking away their car and car keys, is very difficult. Although there may be no obvious way to ensure whether you or an older family member are still a safe driver, ongoing family discussions and objective assessments help older drivers and their families evaluate the risks in their own unique situation.

Losing the ability to drive reduces ones independence. It is one of the most feared losses facing an older adult. However, hearing sensitive information from the right person can make a big difference. What you say or don't say influences the decisions of older adults and can make the difference between safety and injury.

Although unsafe driving may be an uncomfortable and sometimes argumentative subject, discussions about driving made calmly over time will help older adults understand family concerns and usually leads to agreements to drive less, avoid certain road conditions, or stop driving altogether if necessary.

Older adults typically prefer to speak confidentially about safe driving with someone they trust. To increase the chances of success, families should choose the right person to initiate the ongoing discussion and have others reinforce these discussions. Often family members can form a united front with doctors and friends to help older drivers make good driving decisions.

Additionally, older drivers should be encouraged to participate in safe driving classes. Classes include 55 Alive sponsored by AARP and the Rules of the Road sponsored by the Illinois Secretary of State's office. These classes are held periodically in local senior adult centers.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), "Getting older does not necessarily mean a person's driving days are over. But, it is important to plan ahead and take steps to ensure the safety of your loved ones on the road. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers free materials to help you learn more about how to recognize and discuss changes in your older loved one's driving."

Use these links for information about Talking with Older Drivers and You & Your Car.

Sources: AARP, Associated Press, & National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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