Lending a hand to older drivers
All older drivers know they face a tough decision sooner or later.
Changes in vision, hearing, reaction time and other age-related conditions or illnesses can affect the ability to safely remain behind the wheel. But determining when to hang up the car keys is a challenging choice for the elderly and their families.
It’s also an important issue for communities, which often are called on to provide alternative means of transportation for elderly residents who can no longer drive. Yet broaching the topic either publicly or privately can be difficult because, for most seniors, driving equals independence.
“We have to find non-threatening ways to open up conversations with older adults, families and communities about driving,” says Jeff Finn, project coordinator for Drivewell, a new older-driver education program developed by the American Society on Aging. “As the elderly population grows, so does the need to find solutions that work.”
Statistics bear that out. By 2030, the number of older Americans will reach more than 70 million, and 1 of 4 drivers on the road will be 65 or older. While drivers 70 and older are among the safest on the road, posting the highest seat-belt-use rates and the lowest rates of alcohol involvement, they also suffer more serious injuries and fatalities when involved in a crash.
Drivewell, a program designed to promote community conversations that can lead to increased driver safety and more transportation choices for adults 65 and older, launched this spring. A main feature of the program is the Drivewell National Experts Speakers Bureau, a group of 17 individuals from public and private aging organizations. Experts act as regional resources to local social-service agencies, health departments and law-enforcement groups by providing training and offering creative solutions.
“The main purpose of the program is to maintain safety for older drivers,” says Dr. Jeffrey W. Runge of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is helping to administer Drivewell.
According to the National Older Driver Research and Training Center, restrictions placed on driving can have serious negative consequences for the elderly. When older drivers lose their wheels, they can experience decreased access to social activities, medical services, shopping and other services critical to living independently.
Other organizations also are working to help.
- Earlier this year, the American Automobile Association introduced “Roadwise Review: A Tool to Help Seniors Drive Safely.” The CD-ROM measures eight physical and mental abilities – including vision, head and neck flexibility and working memory – which have been shown to be the strongest predictors of crash risk among older drivers. Available at local AAA offices across the country, the software, which sells for $15, also provides feedback to guide the user’s decision about his or her ability to drive safely.
- A Web site, www.aota.org/olderdriver, developed by the American Occupational Therapy Association, targets senior drivers and their caregivers and includes lists of driving refresher courses, driving self-tests and consumer tip sheets.
- The Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists Web site, www.driver-ed.org, includes a directory of driving rehab specialists across the country. These professionals can assist in determining whether an individual can safely keep driving.