In the past, study of age-related driving dangers has generally focused on teenagers and twenty somethings, the demographics with the most questionable driving records. More recently, safety experts have begun to investigate the effects of aging on driving skills. This week, for example, the National Transportation Safety Board is hosting the country’s first forum on aging drivers and steps that can be taken to ensure that such drivers get the help they need, and stop driving when it is no longer safe to do so. The two-day Washington DC event includes the testimony of experts and government officials with an emphasis on reducing fatal car accidents.
As the “baby boomer” generation reaches retirement, aging drivers could increasingly dominate the roadways. In 15 years, for example, people over 65 are expected to comprise 20 percent of all drivers. That’s an increase from 30 million drivers over 65 today, to about 57 million by 2030, the Government Accountability Office predicts. Though the problems associated with aging drivers are clear, asking people to give up their mobility is no simple task. “For many , our homes will not be just a place to age, it will also be house arrest,” said Joseph Coughlin of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab.
But the statistics aren’t encouraging for aging drivers. On average, fatality rates begin to increase once drivers pass 75 years in age. Drivers over 85 are more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than teenagers and people in their 20s. This is due both to deteriorating vision and reaction time, but also to weakened bodies that are less likely to survive a serious car accident.
Some have turned to vehicle technology to extend their driving lives. Consumers can buy, for example, crash warning systems or products that improve night vision, and mechanisms to enhance reaction time. Such technology “may extend the driving careers of some seniors, but they are certainly not a panacea,” said Bonnie Dobbs of the University of Alberta.
Not surprisingly, some aging drivers are reluctant to give up their keys even when their driving skills wane because this marks a decrease in their freedom of mobility. With this in mind, we have developed a resource detailing the potential dangers associated with aging driving, and alternatives seniors can turn to if personal mobility ceases to be an option. Check out our resource and tune in to the NTSB forum today for more information on aging driver safety.
Photo credit: ntsb.gov