COLUMBUS — Nearly 83 percent of older drivers never speak to a family member or physician about their safe driving ability, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Of the small percentage of families that do have the conversation, 15 percent do so after a crash or traffic infraction has occurred – which could be too late.
Today’s seniors are outliving their ability to drive safely by an average of 7-10 years. While these older drivers are notoriously safe drivers, age-related conditions make them more likely to be injured or killed in a crash.
The number of traffic fatalities involving senior drivers age 65 and older is on the rise in Ohio, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation. Last year, 252 people died in crashes involving a senior driver, up from 184 people in 2013.
“The right time to stop driving varies for everyone,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “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.”
The report is the latest research released in the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers (LongROAD) project. This study 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 (falling asleep while driving, trouble staying in lane): 65 percent
Health issues: 22 percent
Driving infraction or crash: 15 percent
Planning for future: 7 percent
Planning for Driving Retirement
AAA urges seniors to begin planning for “driving retirement,” just as they would plan for retirement from work. Families should start talking about safe driving early and avoid waiting for “red flags” like crashes, scrapes on the car, new medical diagnoses, or worsening health conditions. When talking to an older driver:
Start early and talk often: Be positive, be supportive and focus on ways to help keep them safe behind the wheel, including other available forms of transportation.
Avoid generalizations: Do not jump to conclusions about an older driver’s skills or abilities.
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.
Focus on the facts: Stick to the information you know, like a medical condition or medication regimen that might make driving unsafe. Do not make accusations.
Plan together: Allow the older driver to play an active role in developing a driving plan.
“The best time to initiate discussion with a loved one about staying mobile without a set of car keys is before you suspect there is a problem,” said Jake Nelson, AAA director of traffic safety advocacy and research. “Planning for personal mobility and independence should be done working shoulder to shoulder with an older driver.”
Families should plan to keep older drivers on the road for as long as safely possible. Past research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that older adults who 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 Driver Planning Agreement can help families start conversations about safety and plan together for future changes in driving abilities, before they become a concern.
For more information on AAA resources for older drivers, such as driver improvement courses or other programs that help seniors better “fit” with their vehicles, visit SeniorDriving.AAA.com.
Kimberly Schwind is the senio public relations manager for AAA Ohio Auto Club