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Wave of Aging Drivers Begins as First Boomers Turn 65

At what age should a driver's licence be given up? AAA offers help for aging drivers and their families

December 5 through 9 is Older Driver Safety Awareness Week and the American Automobile Association (AAA) wants to help keep older drivers and their families safe. The first of the baby boomers turn 65 this year, so the population of seniors will be increasing substantially over the next twenty years. According to the AAA most of us can expect to live 7-10 years past our safe driving ability, so safety is going to be a growing issue.

"In less than 10 years, one in four licensed drivers will be age 65 and older, which means that millions of American families will be working through this challenge," said Jake Nelson, director, AAA Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research. "Most families don't know where to turn for help so by partnering with the American Occupational Therapists Association (AOTA) during Older Driver Safety Awareness Week, AAA hopes to raise visibility of resources and tools that will help families address real and perceived challenges associated with driving and aging."

That doesn’t mean the AAA wants seniors off the road. On the contrary, it says it “is dedicated to keeping seniors driving as long as safely possible.” To that end, their public affairs website has an entire section for and about seniors with several tools and resources. There’s a chart outlining various state laws about senior drivers, and a downloadable brochure, CarFit, on how to make a car safer and more comfortable for older drivers. If all that’s really needed is a skills brush-up, many AAA branches offer courses. Check your local office.

For families of older drivers, a seniors expert offers advice on how to discuss driving issues with family members. Since giving up a driver’s licence means a loss of mobility and independence, it’s always a tricky issue. There’s a self-rating form so drivers, by themselves or with a family member’s help, can assess whether they should still be behind the wheel or they've reached the age at which they should give up their driver's licence for good. It notes that driving experience does cancel out to some extent the decline in our skills, which is why drivers in their fifties and sixties generally have fewer accidents, but with increasing age, crash rates once more increase. Aging bodies also mean a higher chance of being seriously injured in an accident.

There’s an additional section on How to Help a Senior Driver with more advice for families. The site notes that, “Eighty-six percent of respondents to a recent AAA survey said they were ‘concerned’ about their elderly parent's ability to drive. Thirty-nine percent said they were ‘very concerned’," so if you’re worried that your parents have reached the age where they should hand in their driver's licence, you’re not alone. It may not be necessary for someone to stop driving altogether, but they may need to refrain from driving under certain conditions, such as after dark. Perhaps a different car would work better. There’s advice on choosing the right vehicle for dealing with different physical conditions, such as arthritis.

If each of us remembers to be patient and courteous to other drivers, we’ll all be safer.

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