Should grandpa still drive? Study looks for data on seniors behind the wheel

DENVER -- For most of them, it’s been decades since they took a drivers test. Yet hundreds of local seniors are taking part in a nationwide study to help researchers learn more about them behind the wheel. 

“[We're studying] how older adults drive, the safety of their driving, their driving performance, and their decisions about their driving behavior,” researcher Carolyn DiGuiseppi of the Colorado School of Public Health said.

Denver is one of five cities across the country to be taking part in the LongROAD study, funded by AAA, to gather data on aging drivers. 

Participants take part in mental and perception tests, a variety of data collection surveys, and then take actual driving tests.  

“I think people think we drive slower and have slower reaction times,” said Colette Kerlin, a senior who took part in a related study done by the same researchers at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. 

Kerlin acknowledged that with age come challenges when driving. She says she tries to stay off high speed roads and not drive at night, but recognized that not everyone does things like that, and don’t want to give up their keys. 

“A lot of us don’t want to give up. You give up independence when you give up driving,” she said. 

But researchers say the goal of the study isn’t to bar senior citizens from driving. Instead, it's to learn how to help them drive better. For example, they found that many seniors aren't taught how to operate newer car safety features like blind spot detection or even back up cameras. 

“We aren't designed to try to decide exactly who should be driving or who should not be driving, although certainly the results can inform the decisions. We hope the results can be used to help people be safer drivers,” DiGuiseppi said.

The study is nearing the completion of its fifth year, but DiGuiseppi says it could be extended to learn more about the long-term driving habits and challenges of the elderly. 

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