DENVER – Just how old is too old to drive safely? As the saying goes, age is just a number: The right time to stop driving varies for everyone, which is why it's important to strike up conversations with loved ones about their needs and abilities. The problem? Those conversations don't seem to be happening: Nearly 83 percent of older drivers report never speaking to a family member or a physician about their driving abilities, per new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Of the percentage of families who do have these often-difficult conversations, 15 percent do so only after a crash or traffic infraction has already occurred – which could be too late. Older drivers face a significantly higher risk of death and injury if involved in a crash.
In 2016, more than 200,000 drivers ages 65 and older were injured in a traffic crash and more than 3,500 were killed. With seniors outliving their ability to drive safely by an average of seven to 10 years, families can't afford to wait to talk about safety. AAA urges seniors to begin planning for "driving retirement" at the same time they begin planning for retirement from work.
"Older drivers often hesitate to initiate conversations about their driving capabilities, so family members truly have a responsibility to talk to them early and often about their future behind the wheel," said AAA Colorado spokesman Skyler McKinley. "The good news is that these don't have to be awkward conversations: With early discussions and proper planning, seniors drivers can actually extend their time on the road."
The report is the latest research released in the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety's Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers (LongROAD) project. Researchers found that only 17 percent of older drivers report ever speaking with a family member or physician about driving safety. What sparks those conversations?
- Driving safety concerns (trouble staying in lane, etc.): 65 percent
- Health issues: 22 percent
- Driving infraction or crash: 15 percent
- Planning for the future 7 percent
AAA recommends that families start talking with older adults about safe driving early and avoid waiting until there are "red flags" such as crashes, scrapes on the car (from bumping into garages, signs, and so on), new medical diagnoses, or worsening health conditions. Begin these discussions when an older driver starts planning for other life changes, such as retirement from work or moving to a new home. When talking to an older driver, families should do the following:
- Start early and talk often: Be positive, be supportive, and focus on ways to help keep them safe when behind the wheel, including other forms of transportation available to older drivers
- Avoid generalizations: Do not jump to conclusions about an older driver's skills or abilities.
- Speak one-on-one: Keep the discussions 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 information you know, such as a medical condition or medication that might make driving unsafe. Do not accuse an older driver of being unsafe or assume that driving needs to be stopped altogether.
- Plan together: Allow the older driver to play an active role in developing the plan for their driving retirement.
"In 2018, we're lucky to have so many mobility options at our fingertips," McKinley said. "By having a conversation about the car keys with a loved one, you're effectively planning for their continued independence. That's why you want to have this conversation sooner, rather than later: To set mutual expectations and reduce safety issues or emotional reactions down the line."
The goal should be keeping the older driver on the road for as long as safely possible. Past AAA research found that older adults who have 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. Families can use the AAA Driver Planning Agreement as a guide to starting conversations about safety. The agreement allows families to plan together for future changes in driving abilities before they become a concern.
For more information on free AAA resources for older drivers, visit www.SeniorDriving.AAA.com.
About LongROAD: Recognizing that lifestyle changes, along with innovative technologies and medical advancements will have a significant impact on the driving experiences of the baby boomer generation, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has launched a ground-breaking, multi-year research program to more fully understand the driving patterns and trends of older drivers in the United States. The AAA LongROAD (Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers) study is one of the largest and most comprehensive senior driver databases available on senior drivers incorporating 2,990 participants being followed for five years. It will support in-depth studies of senior driving and mobility to better understand risks and develop effective countermeasures.
About AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety: Established in 1947 by AAA, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is a not-for-profit, publicly funded, 501(c)(3) charitable research and educational organization. The AAA Foundation's mission is to prevent traffic deaths and injuries by conducting research into their causes and by educating the public about strategies to prevent crashes and reduce injuries when they do occur. This research is used to develop educational materials for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and other road users. Visit www.AAAFoundation.org.
About AAA Colorado
More than 675,000 members strong, AAA Colorado is the state's greatest advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. As North America's largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 58 million members with travel, insurance, financial, and automotive-related services - as well as member-exclusive savings. For more information, visit AAA.com.