While they do tend to be more vulnerable to serious injuries and fatalities in the event of a crash, seniors are actually among the safest drivers on the road. In fact, AAA reports as a group, elderly drivers tend to avoid drinking and driving, they observe the speed limit and wear their seat belts. True, they may suffer from some degree of vision or hearing loss, but they often compensate for these deficits by reducing their speed and the number of other distractions so they can focus solely on the road ahead.
That’s more than we can say for many of the younger motorists, who have far higher rates of impaired driving and are prone to cell phone distraction.
But this is not to say there aren’t areas of concern when it comes to older drivers. For example, we know that half of those over the age of 80 suffer from crippling joint inflammation that can make twisting, turning and flexing very painful. That can make driving tough. Plus, we know three-quarters of all drivers over the age of 65 are on some type of medication. However, less than one-third answered affirmatively when asked whether those drugs impacted their driving ability at all. There is reason to believe that’s not entirely accurate. Older drivers are also more prone to weaker muscles, limited range of motion and reduced flexibility. That can impact a driver’s ability to press the brake or accelerator, grip the steering wheel or open or reach doors and windows.
In the next 15 years, AAA reports there will be 70 million in the U.S. over the age of 65, and 9 out of 10 of them will have licenses to drive. It’s for that reason the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is launching one of the largest, most comprehensive longitudinal studies regarding elder driving safety.
The $12 million analysis will involve tracking 3,000 senior motorists as part of an unprecedented effort to understand better the transportation and safety needs of our graying population. The study is going to look at factors like diminishing vision, prescription drug use and other risk factors common among older drivers. It’s also going to analyze decisions made by seniors to stop driving, and what types of mobility options are available for seniors who don’t drive anymore.
Study authors at five sites in Colorado, Michigan, New York, Maryland and California have already begun recruiting efforts. Study subjects will be between the ages of 65 and 79, and they will agree to have their vehicles outfitted with GPS devices that will monitor their real-time driving patterns. The data as reported will be anonymous, but it’s going to tell researchers more about the kinds of maneuvers older drivers make, where they drive and at what times. It’s also going to track traffic accidents, and participants must agree to an annual physical exam that will measure their cognitive and physical functions.
Researchers say all too often, family members and even doctors rely on largely anecdotal evidence when determining when to approach a loved one or patient about when it’s time to turn in the keys. This study, they hope, will provide a more concrete measure of when those limitations or revocations should be imposed.
The other hope is to identify the kinds of technologies that might better protect seniors in the event of a crash.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (888) 751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
AAA Invests $12 Million in Study of Older Drivers’ Needs, Jan. 20, 2015, By Randi Belisomo, Reuters
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