08 – Senior Driving: Be Proactive and Understand Your Limitations

December 4, 2013 | Posted in Podcast Episodes, Senior Driving

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December 2-6, 2013 is Older Driver Safety Awareness Week

Jacob Nelson

Jacob Nelson

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

Older Driving Safety Awareness Week

Plan before there are any problems

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:

  • Flexibility
  • 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

Older Driver Safety Awareness Week

Be sure to chat with your doctor about any medication you are taking

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 DriversIt 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

Older Driver Safety Awareness Week

Time to go for a spin

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.

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