AAA: More than 80% of Older Drivers Aren't Talking about Driving Safety

Most families and physicians wait too long...

Eighty-three percent of older drivers report never speaking to a family member or physician about their safe driving ability, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Of the small percentage of families who do have the often-difficult conversation, 15 percent do so after a crash or traffic infraction has occurred- which could be too late. Due to their fragility, older drivers are at greater risk of death and injury if involved in a crash.

In 2016, more than 200,000 drivers ages 65 and older were injured in a traffic crash and more than 3,500 were killed. With seniors outliving their ability to drive safely by an average of seven to 10 years, families should not wait to talk about safety. AAA urges seniors to begin planning for “driving retirement” at the same time they begin planning for retirement from work.

“The right time to stop driving varies for everyone,” said Mary Maguire, AAA Northeast Director of Public and Legislative Affairs. “This research shows that older drivers can be hesitant to initiate conversations about their driving capabilities, so it is important that families encourage them to talk early and often about their future behind the wheel. With early discussion and proper planning, elderly drivers may extend their time on the road.”

The report is the latest research released in the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers (LongROAD) project. Researchers found that only 17 percent of older drivers report ever speaking with a family member or physician about driving safety. The most commonly cited reasons for having the discussion include:

  • Driving safety concerns (falling asleep while driving, trouble staying in lane): 65 percent
  • Health issues: 22 percent
  • Driving infraction or crash: 15 percent
  • Planning for the future: 7 percent

AAA recommends that families start talking with older adults about safe driving early and avoid waiting until there are "red flags" like crashes, scrapes on the car (from bumping into garages, signs, etc.), new medical diagnoses, or worsening health conditions. It is helpful to begin discussions when an older driver starts planning for other life changes, like retirement from work or moving to a new home. When talking to an older driver, families should:

  • Start early and talk often: Be positive, be supportive and focus on ways to help keep them safe when behind the wheel, including other forms of transportation available to older drivers.
  • Avoid generalizations: Do not jump to conclusions about an older driver’s skills or abilities.
  • Speak one-on-one: Keep the discussion between you and the older driver. Inviting the whole family to the conversation can create feelings of alienation or anger.
  • Focus on the facts: Stick to information you know, like a medical condition or medication regimen that might make driving unsafe. Do not accuse an older driver of being unsafe or assume that driving should be stopped altogether.
  • Plan Together: Allow the older driver to play an active role in developing the plan for their driving retirement.

“The best time to initiate a discussion with a loved one about staying mobile without a set of car keys is before you suspect there is a problem,” Ms. Maguire said “Planning for personal mobility and independence should be done working shoulder to shoulder with the older driver. Talking sooner, rather than later, can help set mutual expectations and reduce safety issues or emotional reactions down the line.”

Families should have a plan to help keep the older driver on the road for as long as safely possible. Past research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that older adults who have stopped driving 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. The AAA Driver Planning Agreement  can serve as a guide to starting conversations about safety, allowing families to plan together for future changes in driving abilities before they become a concern.

For more information on AAA resources for older drivers, such as RoadWise online/classroom courses or other programs that help seniors better “fit” with their vehicles, visit www.SeniorDriving.AAA.com.

AAA Offers Resources for Senior Drivers and Families

            A new study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds that only 17 percent of senior drivers have spoken to physicians or family members about their driving abilities. AAA provides senior drivers and their families with the resources they need to help keep the older driver on the road for as long as safely possible.

  • The older driver and their family can adopt the Driver Planning Agreement  to initiate a conversation and develop a plan to ensure the driver’s safety and the safety of others on the road while simultaneously maintaining mobility and independence.
  • Key Timing is a free online module that provides advice and resources for older drivers and their families. Included in the resources tab are links to state-specific transportation options and evaluation services that can aid families in the planning process. Visit www.aaa.com/Keytiming
  • AAA’s free Defensive Driving Program is designed for drivers 55 and older to provide a refresh on the rules of the road and techniques to compensate for changes associated with aging. The course is also available online for a small fee. http://aaa.com/defensivedriving or call (866) 901-8457 for more information.
  • AAA National’s website, www.SeniorDriving.AAA.com, also offers links to programs to evaluate driving ability and articles explaining how the aging process affects driving.

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