Older Adult’s Silence on Driving Difficulties Can Be Deadly

Senior Drivingt

Photo Credit: AAA Northeast

In 2016, more than 200,000 drivers ages 65 and older were injured in a traffic crash and more than 3,500 were killed. With seniors outliving their ability to drive safely by an average of seven to 10 years, families should not wait to talk about safety. The latest study released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers (ALongROAD) project urges seniors to begin planning for “driving retirement” at the same time they begin planning for retirement from work.

According to the AAA report released on August 14, 83 percent of older drivers report never speaking to a family member or physician about their declining driving ability.  Of the small percentage of families who do have the often-difficult conversation, 15 percent do so after a crash or traffic infraction has occurred- which could be too late, notes the report.  Due to their fragility, older drivers are at greater risk of death and injury if involved in a crash.

Declining Driving Abilities Not Topics for Discussion

Researchers found that only 17 percent of older drivers report ever speaking with a family member or physician about driving safety. The most commonly cited reasons for having the discussion include:  Driving safety concerns, like falling asleep while driving, trouble staying in lane (65 percent); Health issues (22 percent); Driving infraction or crash (15 percent); Planning for the future (7 percent).

“The right time to stop driving varies for everyone,” said Lloyd Albert, AAA Northeast Senior Vice President of Public and Government Affairs. “This research shows that 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,” adds Albert.

AAA recommends that families start talking with older adults about safe driving early on to avoid waiting until there are “red flags” like crashes, scrapes on the car (from bumping into garages, signs, etc.), new medical diagnoses, or worsening health conditions. It is helpful to begin discussions when an older driver starts planning for other life changes, like retirement from work or moving to a new home, says the nonprofit organization, a federation of motor clubs throughout North America with over 58 million members.

The ABCs on Talking About Safe Driving

When talking to an older driver, AAA suggests that families should:

o   Start early and talk often: Be positive, be supportive and focus on ways to help keep them safe when behind the wheel, including other forms of transportation available to older drivers.

o   Avoid generalizations: Do not jump to conclusions about an older driver’s skills or abilities.

o   Speak one-on-one: Keep the discussion between you and the older driver. Inviting the whole family to the conversation can create feelings of alienation or anger.

o   Focus on the facts: Stick to information you know, like a medical condition or medication regimen that might make driving unsafe. Do not accuse an older driver of being unsafe or assume that driving should be stopped altogether.

o   Plan Together: Allow the older driver to play an active role in developing the plan for their driving retirement.

Talking Sooner, Rather Than Later

“The best time to initiate a discussion with a loved one about staying mobile without a set of car keys is before you suspect there is a problem,” Mr. Albert said. “Planning for personal mobility and independence should be done working shoulder to shoulder with the older driver. Talking sooner, rather than later, can help set mutual expectations and reduce safety issues or emotional reactions down the line,” he says.

Families should have a plan to help keep the older driver on the road for as long as safely possible. Past research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that older adults who have stopped driving are almost two times more likely to suffer from depression and nearly five times as likely to enter a long-term care facility as those who remain behind the wheel.

The AAA Drivers Planning Agreement can serve as a guide to starting conversations about safety, allowing families to plan together for future changes in driving abilities before they become a concern.

For more information on AAA resources for older drivers, such as RoadWiseonline/classroom courses or other programs that help seniors better “fit” with their vehicles, visit www.SeniorDiving.AAA.com..

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