Senior citizens should be talking more about safe driving and may need to plan for "driving retirement," according to a report released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
"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 spokeswoman Tamra Johnson said. "AAA urges seniors to begin planning for driving retirement at the same time they begin planning for retirement from work."
The AAA study, conducted with the Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers project (LongROAD), found that nearly 83 percent of drivers ages 65 to 79 haven't spoken to family members or a physician about their safe driving ability.
According to AAA, more than 200,000 drivers over the age of 65 were injured in a traffic crash in 2016 and more than 3,500 were killed. Additionally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 18 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2016 involved people 65 and older.
The AAA study also found the majority of conversations that did take place were prompted by an apparent concern such as falling asleep at the wheel, staying in a lane of traffic, health issues and involvement in crashes.
"The right time to stop driving varies for everyone," said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation of Traffic Safety. "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."
AAA said family members should take the initiative in talking to relatives or friends about driving concerns, but not wait until any red flags pop up, or it may be too late.
"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," said Jake Nelson, AAA director of traffic safety advocacy and research. "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."
If you known an aging driver, AAA said, it's important to speak one-on-one, avoid generalizations and stick to facts to create a safe driving plan. More information on senior driving can be found at AAA's senior driving website. The NHTSA also offers a guide for speaking to older drivers.
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