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Families Should Discuss “Transportation Plan” With Older Drivers, Safety Officials Advise

As part of a nationwide initiative, federal highway safety officials are encouraging families to talk with their elderly loved ones about transportation, and their ability to safely operate a motor vehicle, pointing out that thousands are deaths occur each year involving senior drivers. 

Next week is “Older Driver Safety Awareness Week”, with the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launching advertisements and other efforts designed to increase awareness about the unnecessary risk many older drivers place themselves in, and push families to address the issues before it is too late.

Individuals are not only living longer, but driving more in their elderly years, according to new research. This has corresponded with an increase in senior aged driver fatalities annually, despite advances in vehicles safety technology.

Senior drivers have limitations that can make driving more difficult, such as arthritis, weaker muscles, reduced flexibility and motion restriction, which may limit their ability to check blind spots and press the accelerator or brake quickly.

The NHTSA, and their partners at the American Occupational Therapy Association, AARP, AAA, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have seen an increase in driving ages, with some individuals still driving in their nineties.

In the face of new advancements in medicine, senior citizens are outliving their ability to drive safely by an average of seven to ten years, according to AAA. Studies have shown more than 75 percent of drivers over the age of 65 or older reported using one or more medications, yet less than a third admitted having any limitation when driving.

Families can begin planning transportation with elderly members by requesting they reduce hazardous driving times such as during rush-hour, at night, during bad weather, and by avoiding difficult roads such as highways and intersections.

NHTSA encourages family members to discuss future driving arrangements and when seniors should stop transporting themselves. While some motorists can drive safely, many seniors taking medications that disturb eyesight, sleep, cause tremors or disturb their memory can make driving more dangerous. Experts suggest elderly drivers consult with their primary healthcare provider to determine whether they are experiencing any symptoms that may increase driving risks.

Previous elderly driving research has found seniors disproportionately represent roadway fatalities. In 2009, more than 58 percent of roadway fatalities involved drivers over the age of 65. In 2014, nearly 5,800 senior drivers were killed and 221,000 were injured in traffic crashes as drivers or passengers. The highest recording of senior fatalities was recorded in 2016, with more than 6,700 fatalities involving seniors.

As either a driver or a passenger, seniors are much more vulnerable to injury or death when involved in a vehicle accident, and should take this into consideration when planning their driving arrangements. AAA reports seniors over 65 years of age are 17 times more likely to suffer a serious injury in a vehicle accident than those between the ages of 25 to 64 years old.

AAA reported that from 1999 to 2009 there was a 20 percent increase of licensed drivers over the age of 65. AAA estimates by the year 2030, there will be approximately 70 million Americans in the U.S. over the age of 65 with an estimated 85 to 90 percent of them licensed to drive.

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