Seniors Behind The Wheel - Who Decides?
It is a challenge that is ultimately going to impact us all in one way or another - seniors driving. Not high school seniors, rather senior citizens. Whether it’s when we are forced to address the issue as our parents age or when we baby boomers move into our golden years, it is a situation that will have far-reaching effects on all of us.
Americans are living and staying healthy longer, so there is little question that the number of senior drivers is on the rise. Several organizations and groups, including the American Association for Retired Persons, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, are working to address this growing concern and, it is hoped, develop solutions that will provide not only for the safety of all drivers, but also for the continued mobility of senior drivers.
One area that is being seriously addressed is the possibility of increased license testing for senior drivers. Technically, the NHTSA refers to drivers over the age of 70 as seniors, but the AARP is working through its 55 Alive —Mature Driving program to begin addressing the problems at a much earlier age in the hopes of reducing the magnitude of the challenge as more and more drivers fall into the 70-and-over age group.
If there had been any doubt that today’s senior citizens are much more mobile than those of previous generations, it was removed in landmark style by the space flight of 77-year-old senator John Glenn. Fact is, Sen. Glenn is just a high-flying profile of a new trend in senior citizen behavior.
Because, as we said, seniors are living longer, and they have more disposable income, we find that more of them are traveling on a regular basis, many by car. Unfortunately, NHTSA statistics show that this group of drivers also has one of the highest accident rates.
Both the NHTSA and AARP agree that there are two main challenges facing the resolution of the problem. The first is to help aging individuals recognize their changing abilities and adapt their driving practices appropriately. The second is to help identify, assess, and regulate older drivers with diminishing abilities who cannot or will not voluntarily adapt their driving habits. NHTSA is working to develop ways to help families, friends, physicians and other health care providers, and licensing officials to identify drivers with functional limitations.
Correspondingly, AARP has initiated the 55 Alive - Mature Driving program. Designed not only to give safe driving pointers, 55 Alive aims to introduce a bit of introspection on the part of seniors. By making the course available to everyone over the age of 55 and not just members, the AARP shows its dedication to reducing the accident rate among all mature drivers, as well as offering an opportunity to reduce their auto insurance rates.
The cost is only $8. Attendees frequently discover that not only does it confirm many beliefs, but it opens the eyes of older drivers to many driving situations that they face. Attendees answer a workbook full of questions relating to driving skills and situations. Participants are asked to be honest with themselves when deciding if certain situations apply to them, such as, “How frequently do you think, ‘Whew, that was a close one’?”
Drivers over 55 have more accidents per mile. They also suffer more frequently from impaired hearing or vision than the general population. And as we age, our night-time vision capacity diminishes. Did you know that many insurance companies offer lower rates to seniors who restrict their driving to daylight hours only? Or that the most frequent accident scenario for older drivers involves a left turn across traffic? A good rule of thumb might be, “Look twice, turn once!”
The course also does an excellent job of making seniors aware of new technologies in cars. Just how do anti-lock brakes work in a panic situation? No, don’t sit your 5-year-old grandchild in the passenger seat of a new car equipped with a passenger-side airbag. Find out how to use the seat-height adjuster in your car. If you’re of below-average height, consider sitting on a small pillow; if you can’t see out the front windshield, then you can’t see. Learn how to use all of your mirrors to avoid blind spots. Make sure that you maintain your vehicle properly. A roadside breakdown can be a traumatic experience for a senior citizen.
55 Alive requires an 8-hour commitment, two 4-hour sessions during two consecutive weeks. Completion earns you a certificate that can grant you a 10-percent discount with many insurance companies.
For more details, contact the AARP and ask for information regarding the 55 Alive - Mature Driving program. But be warned: In many areas there is a 3- to 4-month wait to get in these classes, and as the word spreads the wait could get longer. So whether it’s for yourself or a senior family member, call now. Remember, our personal safety in an automobile is in great part our personal responsibility.