Give Up the Car Keys…Or Get a New Car?

December 5 - 9 is Older Driving Safety Awareness Week

Medical conditions such as arthritis, dementia, hearing loss, visual impairment—and even some of the normal changes of aging, such as slower reaction time and decreased manual dexterity—can mean that it’s no longer safe for a senior to drive.

Yet many seniors are very good drivers, having gained experience and savvy during years on the road. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), 36 million American seniors are still behind the wheel. Our aging population means that number will rise. Driving helps keep these seniors independent and active in the community, and they are right to worry about what giving up the keys will mean. It might be unsafe for them to drive long before they’re ready to cut back on their activities—including employment, volunteer work and other destinations. Studies also suggest that driving cessation puts a senior at higher risk for depression, isolation and even financial insecurity.

It’s important to be prepared to transition to being a non driver. Learn about alternative transportation solutions well ahead of need. And have a sound strategy for making the decision as to whether driving is still safe. If you’re not sure, talking to your doctor is the first step. You can also get an evaluation from a certified driver rehabilitation specialist (typically, an occupational therapist).

To help extend a senior’s driving years, senior driving specialists often recommend a refresher driver’s ed training especially for older adults. These courses are available through AAA, AARP and elsewhere.

And here’s something many seniors and families fail to consider: According to AAA, when seniors are experiencing driving problems, their car might be a big part of the problem. Be sure the car is in good repair. Add safety features, such as better mirrors and windshield wipers.

Even more to the point, is the car a good fit for the driver’s abilities? AAA offers a free online evaluation with the AAA “Find the Right Vehicle for You” feature.  

Some seniors resist trading in their old, familiar vehicle. They might feel intimidated by some of the high-tech features of today’s automobiles. How do you start it without a key? What are all those dashboard displays—this looks like the cockpit of a 747! But once they get used to these new technologies, they quickly realize that some of the safety gadgets of today seem like they were specially designed for the needs of senior drivers!

AAA recommends these features in particular:

  • Forward collision warning/mitigation: These systems can help prevent crashes by warning drivers of a potential collision or by automatically applying the brakes. For older drivers, this technology can improve reaction times and reduce crashes by up to 20 percent.
  • Automatic crash notification: These systems automatically alert emergency services in the event of a crash. Older drivers are more likely to suffer from the serious effects of a crash, which means these systems can provide a greater safety benefit to seniors.
  • Parking assist with rearview display: This technology includes backup cameras and obstacle-detection warning systems, which can help prevent crashes when pulling out of a parking space.
  • Parking assist with cross-traffic warning: These systems utilize radar sensor technology to notify drivers of crossing vehicles when backing out of a parking space, and on some vehicles, the systems automatically can apply the brakes to prevent a collision.
  • Semi-autonomous parking assistance: These systems take over steering while moving into a parallel parking space, which can reduce stress and make parking easier for older drivers.
  • Navigation assistance: Turn-by-turn GPS navigation systems can provide older drivers with increased feelings of safety, confidence, attentiveness and relaxation, which can help them remain focused on the road and comfortable behind the wheel.

“Permanently giving up the keys can have severe consequences for the health and mental well-being of older adults,” says Peter Kissinger, CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “New technologies and a focus on safe driving can help seniors remain behind the wheel for years to come.”

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge, with materials from AAA. Visit the AAA Senior Driving website (www.seniordriving.aaa.com) to find more information and resources for older drivers and their families.