Julie Lee, Vice President and National Director of AARP Driver Safety chats with me about nine important summer driving tips; tips that apply to all drivers. Surprising to many, summer is a more dangerous driving time than winter. In the summer months of June through August 2012, there were 18 percent more fatal car crashes than in the winter months of December through February. In part, the reasons include an increase in the number of people traveling for vacations and the nicer weather, and a major surge in road construction.
Young and Senior Drivers—Not the Same
In 2012, there were 5,560 people 65 and older killed and 214,000 injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes. These older people made up 17 percent of all traffic fatalities and 9 percent of all people injured in traffic crashes during the year. Compared to 2011, fatalities among people 65 and older and injured people in this age group increased by 16 percent.
When looking at the vehicle fatality rate by age, there is a noticeable curve, or U shape. For young drivers where the fatality rate is the highest, the cause is a mixture of actions, primarily all related to inexperience and/or risky behavior. But for drivers over 65, inexperience is clearly not the reason. Being an older driver does not mean an inability to drive, but it can mean an increased fragility. Older drivers are more likely to die in crashes that younger people may survive. Being an older driver requires greater awareness and understanding of any limitations because of aging.
Summer Driving Tips
Recognizing the danger of summer driving and the issues surrounding older drivers, AARP has nine important tips for getting to your destination safely. In this episode, Ms. Lee discusses the tips in more detail, but a summary includes:
- Planning ahead.
- Giving yourself extra time and taking regular breaks.
- Being prepared for emergencies.
- Pulling over to the side—the right way.
- Checking your tires to stay safe and save money.
- Using the three-second rule when driving.
- Avoiding distractions.
- Staying Calm.
- Looking out for motorcyclists and bicyclists.
Being a “Smart Driver”
Ms. Lee and I also talk about the recently revised AARP driving course, Smart Driver. Earlier this year, AARP revised its older driver course to reflect the current state of the research. It also incorporated a message of accepting change with a theme of “Things Change.” The two-day course is about recognizing that everything changes: ones physical abilities, the cars driven, the roads used, and the laws applied. It is about understanding these changes and learning what can be done about them. AARP also created an online driver safety program.
Senior Drivers and Safety Concerns
However, even with the refresher course, at some point, it may be necessary to curtail someone’s driving. Because of safety concerns, you may see the need to have a parent or grandparent stop driving. If that is the case, you will find useful information about having that conversation at “We Need to Talk.” This is always a tough subject but it is an important one, when everyone’s safety is at risk.
One of Ms. Lee’s suggestions is to start having this important discussion before it is needed. This is a conversation to do early and frequently to ensure everyone’s perspective is considered, and everyone understands the next steps when it becomes necessary.
Senior Drivers Moving On
For a lot of people, young and old, driving is a demonstration of independence. Being a senior driver does not mean ending that freedom—it means understanding the changes and responding accordingly. Being a senior driver means taking advantage of the tools and information specifically tailored for you. Using the growing body of knowledge can help all of us drive off into the sunset for many years to come.
- AARP – Driving Resource Center
- Smart Driver Classroom Course
- Smart Driver Online Course
- AARP We Need to Talk
- AARP Carfit
- Pet Safety and Harnesses – Consumers Reports
- Traffic Safety Facts—Older Population 2011 Data
- Traffic Safety Facts—Older Population 2012 Data
- Older Drivers—Time to be a Smart Driver? Traffic Safety Guy Blog
- Senior Drivers: To Drive or Not to Drive. Traffic Safety Guy Blog
- Useful Traffic Safety Tools – Pet Harness. Traffic Safety Guy Website
December 2-6, 2013 is Older Driver Safety Awareness Week
Jacob (Jake) Nelson is an epidemiologist and the Director of Traffic Safety Advocacy & Research for the Automobile Association of America (AAA). Because of his background, Jake sees traffic safety in a different light from traditional traffic safety professionals. In terms of Senior Driving, he analyzes the data and recognizes that when compared to other age groups, there is a greater percentage of seniors dying in fatal crashes. However, it is usually because of their inability to recover from injuries received in a crash, not because of their driving abilities. Thus, while senior drivers are typically safe drivers, their reaction time and judgment are affected by the aging process. So what is one to do? Just stop driving at a certain age? The short answer to that question according to Jake, and based on the research, is an emphatic No. Chronological age is not a good indication of safe—or unsafe—driving. However, as we grow older issues can arise. Understanding and addressing those issues is the critical consideration for any senior driver. Ultimately, that makes it safer for the senior driver and everyone else on the road.
Making Plans Beforehand
It is important for senior drivers and their family members to recognize that in time they could become a danger on the road. Hanging up the keys for good can be one of the hardest decisions for any senior. It can also be one of the hardest conversations for family members to have with a parent or grandparent. How can it be made easier? By planning ahead. In this episode Jake discusses how each family should have a conversation on what to do IF a senior driver becomes a danger to others on the road. The first step is to have the conversation before it is an issue, while the senior driver is still a safe driver. Planning ahead for what to do if the situations arises demonstrates that you care for the person, while allowing for a free flowing discussion on how to remedy a future potentially dangerous situation. The senior driver is an active participant in the decision-making process.
A Self-Evaluation Tool for Senior Drivers
AAA’s on-line tool, “Roadwise Review” is a useful tool to help senior drivers evaluate their driving skills.. It’s free, it can be done by anyone, and it takes only about 30-45 minutes to complete. In making its determination, the evaluation looks at eight important considerations, including:
- Visual Acuity
- Memory, and
- Mental Processing Speed.
After completing it, the person evaluated receives a confidential report. The report provides feedback on each area using three levels: Severe, Moderate or None. Where appropriate, suggestions on ways to improve driving abilities are also provided. Taking this evaluation annually can help show clear changes in ability.
Medication and Senior Drivers
As we age, we are likely to take medication for a variety of ailments. In a recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey of people 55 years and older, 18% of the people surveyed indicated that they had received a warning from a doctor or nurse about the medication they were using and how it could impact their driving abilities; only 28% even recognized it as a possibility. However, the fact that that some senior drivers are driving impaired from medication is a significant and growing concern. Jake discusses another useful tool AAA developed that can help educate you on how medications may affect your driving. Called “Roadwise RX,” it is a free online tool to list medications you take and then receive a report on how that drug or drugs may impair you. It also includes possible interactions between medications.
Know the Useful Car Features
Jake also points out that having the “right” car could make a difference in being a safe driver. While there is no “best” car for senior drivers because of the wide variety of individual physical challenges, there may be important features that should be considered when choosing a car. It is important to know of any personal limitations, and then look for features that help address these limitations. To learn about any features that may be helpful, check out Smart Features for Older Drivers. It is another useful free web-based tool to find out what features may be useful depending on your situation. The list developed can be printed and then taken with you when looking for a car.
An Overview of Senior Driving Issues
Before my conversation with Jake, I provide an overview of some Senior Driving issues, along with a few questions a senior driver or loved one might ask. With the number of older drivers growing, this will be an increasing challenge for families everywhere. This podcast provides great information for families and senior drivers on what is needed to continue driving long into retirement, allowing older drivers to have the freedom to go where they want, visit who they wish, and take on new adventures.
- Older Driver Safety Awareness Week
- Roadwise Review
- Roadwise RX
- Senior Driving AAA
- Smart Features for Older Drivers
- Driving Safety While Aging Gracefully – NHTSA Publication
- Traffic Safety Guy Blog: Senior Drivers and Medication—Are You Driving Impaired?
- Traffic Safety Guy Blog: Senior Drivers: To Drive or Not to Drive