Safe Driving Conversations Can Prolong Senior Mobility

But 83 percent of aging drivers haven’t discussed it with a family member or doctor

BOISE – (August 14, 2018) – A multitude of mobility options can supplement driving as needed and keep seniors on the go, yet nearly 83 percent say they haven’t planned for their driving future with the help of a family member or physician, according to a new study by AAA.

That’s cause for concern, because past research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety indicates that older adults who stop driving and limit their mobility are almost two times more likely to suffer from depression and nearly five times as likely to enter a long-term care facility as those who remain behind the wheel.

“It doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable conversation,” says Matthew Conde, public affairs director for AAA Idaho. “By working together to find a solution, mature drivers, their families, and trained medical professionals can often identify slight changes that help seniors maintain independence.”

The Idaho Labor Department reports that seniors are the fastest growing population in the Gem State, growing eight percent from mid-2016 to mid-2017 compared to total growth of 2.2 percent.

In some cases, aging drivers can make a simple adjustment, such as limiting driving to daylight hours or visiting with a doctor to address diminished eyesight, flexibility, and other issues. If necessary, family members should help seniors become familiar with other modes of transportation that can supplement their own driving, such as ridesharing and mass transit options.

Just 17 percent of respondents said they had ever spoken with a family member or physician about driving safety. The majority of those who did were approached by a family member, and the most common reasons for a discussion were driving safety concerns (65 percent), followed by a health issue (22 percent) and a driving infraction or crash (9 percent).

“The best conversations about safe driving are proactive, not reactive,” Conde said.

 

Keys to an effective safe driving discussion

  • Start the conversation as your loved one approaches retirement. It’s a milestone that naturally leads to planning for the future. Prolonged mobility should be part of the plan.
  • Have a one on one conversation. This prevents the older driver from feeling attacked or “ganged up on.”
  • Don’t generalize. “Advanced age, standing alone, is not a determining factor in one’s ability to drive safely,” Conde said. “Limit the conversation to objective observations. If you notice changing behavior, diminished skills, or new vehicle damage, share your concerns.”
  • Start with the simplest solution. The goal is to exhaust all options before asking a senior to stop driving altogether. Can a simple seat adjustment, mirror adjustment, refresher course, or self-regulation (such as reduced driving hours) keep your loved one safely on the road?
  • Understand how new medications might change the situation. Medications sometimes lead to impaired driving, especially if drivers aren’t used to the potential side effects. AAA’s Roadwise Rx allows you to enter a full list of medications to better understand their impact on safe driving. For more information, visit http://roadwiserx.com/.
  • Take the fear out of the transition. If a senior driver needs to start using other transportation options, go on the first few trips with them. Show love, and let them know that you’ll help them find ways to keep active, complete errands, connect with friends, and remain engaged in hobbies and other pursuits.

A driver planning agreement can help families, physicians and senior drivers set clear expectations and have a productive dialogue about driving, including a commitment to check in regularly and adapt where necessary. The agreement should designate a family member or trusted friend who will address the issue if it should become necessary to discuss whether it is safe or reasonable for the older driver to continue operating a motor vehicle.  A sample agreement can be found here.

“In the future – perhaps way in the future – autonomous vehicles may be able to mitigate many of these concerns,” Conde said. “But in the meantime, it’s up to us as families and friends to look out for each other and keep the roads safe.”