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NHTSA and AAA Encourage Conversations About Safe Driving Solutions for Seniors

A new report highlights the importance of families engaging in early discussions with older drivers about their ability to safely operate a motor vehicle without placing themselves and others at unnecessary risk, pointing to several hundred thousand seniors seriously injured in vehicle accidents each year, including more than 6,700 deaths in 2016. 

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released the findings of a new study on senior driving risks this week, indicating that Americans often fail to have discussions with their older family members about how they will handle driving decisions before they become a risk to themselves and others when getting behind the wheel.

With advancements in medicine, and the average life expectancy increasing to a record high of over 78 years of age, senior citizens are outliving their ability to drive safely by an average of seven to ten years, according to AAA.

In the five year AAA study, researchers interviewed more than 3,000 senior drivers, and found that about 83 percent had no plans to consult with their doctors or family members about their ability to drive, mostly out of the fear of losing their independence.

Of the roughly 15 percent of the population that did speak with their physician or families, self-reporting suggests that they only did so because of receiving a ticket, being involved in an accident, or having a recently diagnosed illness that was apparently hindering their ability to drive.

Although bringing up the topic to elderly drivers may be difficult, AAA is advising families to pursue having safe driving conversations earlier rather than later, to prevent injuries or fatalities. For those who may be at increased risk, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and AAA recommend preparing a plan for potential driving alternatives to ensure the elderly person does not feel isolated.

The report recommends families discuss safe driving solutions well before individuals reach elderly stages to prevent the conversations from becoming emotional. Families should avoid generalizations and never jump to conclusions about an individual’s driving skills or abilities. It is also recommended that the conversation be held in a private setting and should only focus on the facts such as know medical complications that could hinder driving.

According to the NHTSA more than 6,700 people over the age of 65 were killed in crashes in 2016, accounting for 18 percent of the total vehicle crash fatalities recorded. The study also indicates more than 200,000 seniors over the age of 65 were injured in all motor vehicle crashes.

Researchers are hopeful that in the coming years, elderly drivers will have additional safety benefits when getting behind the wheel due to the development of self-driving cars. However, researchers stated the willingness for individuals to adapt to new technology will be key.

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