Older Driver Safety Awareness

The holidays are ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ for many of us, bringing far-flung family together. If it’s the only time of year we drive with Dad, it might also be time to talk about driving.  December 2-6, 2019 is Older Driver Safety Awareness Week, and many organizations want family and caregivers in San Diego to think about older drivers. San Diego is a driving city, and like everyone else, seniors need a car to get around conveniently. There is a natural conflict between older drivers who want to maintain their independence and mobility, and the family members and companions who are concerned about safety. Fortunately for seniors and those receiving home care in San Diego, there are many ways to assess, mitigate and avoid the risks of potentially unsafe driving.

Did you know that people over 65 represented 19% of all traffic fatalities in 2018? That figure combines pedestrians, passengers, and drivers, but it’s still a sobering number. Every day we get older – obviously – but we rarely notice the transition into older age. Often, drivers don’t recognize that they aren’t as alert, responsive or aware as they need to be until they have an accident. Accidents certainly catch the attention, but that’s an expensive and possibly tragic catalyst for change. Why wait that long?

Even if older drivers don’t text, there are a lot of factors impacting their driving. Aside from conditions like cataracts or arthritis, aging affects reflexes, eyesight, and hearing. Many medications have side effects that can cause distractions. And the older body doesn’t interface with the car as well as it used to.

The holidays that bring families together can also show how Dad’s driving has changed in the last year. And this can prompt difficult conversations with the parent or grandparent who has no intention of giving up the car keys. There are many groups that want to help older drivers stay safe, including the CDC, AAA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the American Occupational Therapy Association which sponsors Older Driver Safety Awareness Week. They all agree that the best way to address driving safety is by starting before there’s a crisis, and by asking the driver to plan ahead.

Start by confirming that you’re not just a terrible backseat driver, and that there really is an issue. The NHTSA suggests answering the following questions as a way to decide if a conversation with an older driver is necessary:

  • “Are they getting lost on routes that should be familiar?
  • Have you noticed new dents or scratches to the vehicle?
  • Have they received a ticket for a driving violation?
  • Have they experienced a near-miss or crash recently?
  • Have they been advised to limit/stop driving due to a health reason?
  • Are they overwhelmed by road signs and markings while driving?
  • Are they taking any medication that might affect driving safely?
  • Have they received a ticket for impaired driving?
  • Have you noticed them speeding or driving too slowly for no reason?
  • Are they suffering from any illnesses that may affect driving skills?”

Then prepare for the conversation with the NHTSA’s tips on how to engage with the older driver. If the driver and the family decide that it’s time to make some changes, there are a wide variety of resources that will preserve mobility and independence as long as possible. Take these seven steps to address older driver safety this holiday season:

  1. Start with the AAA’s Drivers 65 Plus Self-Rating tool.
  2. Read Driving Safely While Aging Gracefully from the NHTSA.
  3. Get a CarFit evaluation from AAA, to ensure that the driver and the car are aligned optimally
  4. Explore adaptive equipment that can improve driving safety
  5. Plan to avoid driving at problematic times: Download the Driver Planning Agreement from AOTA and AAA.
  6. If driving is off the table, explore the many transportation resources available
  7. And consider a home care companion who can take over the driving

Everyone wants the older driver to stay connected, active and engaged in their community. The crucial point to remember this holiday season is that seniors can stay independent and mobile with or without a car.