Safety Awareness and the Older Driver

Older Driver

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season means more drivers will be on Seattle’s roads and highways. The increased traffic includes older adults who may be heading out to shop for gifts, attend holiday parties and visit family.

It’s one reason the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) designates the first week of December as Older Driver Safety Awareness Week. In 2016, it will take place from December 5th through 9th.

Older Drivers Challenges

Even those older adults who are active and in good physical shape experience natural changes that come with aging. A decline in vision—especially night vision —and slower reflexes are two that can make driving more of a challenge.

According to research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC), an estimated 586 older adults are injured in car accidents on an average day. Unfortunately, another 12 older adults lose their lives from vehicle-related accidents every day.

Are Older Adults Better or Worse Drivers?

While there is a popular myth that led us to believe older drivers are a danger on the highways, they actually tend to cause fewer accidents that result in injuries to others. In fact, older drivers are far more likely to harm themselves.

According to the CDC, older drivers are safer behind the wheel because:

  • They are more compliant with seatbelt laws
  • Older adults tend to drive fewer miles and avoid peak traffic times
  • Adults aged 65 and older are less likely to drink and drive
  • They are also less likely to drive at night or during inclement weather

Older Driver Safety Awareness Week

AOTA is trying to use the first week of December to raise awareness about the issues that impact older drivers and to share suggestions on how to make them safer behind the wheel of their car. Each day, the organization will focus on a different driver safety topic.

Monday: Planning for Changes

While aging-related changes might make an older adult feel less safe, cutting back on driving or hanging up the keys entirely doesn’t mean an older adult must give up their independence.

Older adults and their families can take a proactive approach in planning for a decrease in driving. This includes creating a list of Seattle area transportation services, such as SOUND generations volunteer transportation program or Dial-a-Ride.

Tuesday: Talk about Your Concerns and Fears as a Family

If you are concerned about your own driving or that of an older driver in the family, having an open and honest discussion might not be easy. But it is important. The key is to be kind and respectful of one another.

Wednesday: Driving Evaluations

One of the challenges families of an older driver face is knowing how to objectively evaluate their loved one’s fitness for driving. While it might be something as simple as inspecting their car for an unusually high number of dents and scrapes, there are other methods. An occupational therapist, for example, can conduct a professional driver safety assessment. AARP Driving Center and AAA Senior Driving are two additional resources you might find helpful.

Thursday: Older Driver Interventions

Staying safe doesn’t always mean hanging up the keys. It’s important to know that there are adaptive devices and other tools that can be used to keep an older driver safer. Some are simple modifications like a swivel seat or an extended side mirror.

Friday: Support System

Finally, it’s important to have a support system in place for an older driver who is struggling with this decision. For most of us, driving represents independence. Giving up the keys can be an emotionally tough time.

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