Simple Changes Help Seniors Stay Safe

Vehicle tech, adaptations can protect mature motorists and extend driving careers

BOISE – (November 29, 2017) – While mature drivers are generally among the safest on the road, seniors aged 65 and over are more than twice as likely as their younger counterparts to be killed when involved in a crash. According to AAA’s latest survey results, seniors underutilize available vehicle technology and adaptations that could greatly reduce their future crash risk.

“The effects of aging can impact the ability to safely operate a motor vehicle and recover from a crash,” says Matthew Conde, public affairs director for AAA Idaho. “Fortunately, small and inexpensive adjustments can often extend driving careers, helping seniors stay safe and active.”

In 2016, more than 16 percent of the drivers involved in fatal Idaho crashes were ages 65 and older. From 2000 to 2015, the number of licensed drivers aged 65 and older in the Gem State soared from 120,000 to more than 216,000 – an increase of nearly 80 percent.  The number of drivers aged 55 to 64 climbed by more than 84 percent during the same period.

In AAA’s recent survey, nearly 90 percent of senior drivers report that they haven’t made any vehicle adaptations to improve their driving experience, but 57 percent of mature drivers say they do have at least one advanced technology or safety enhancement in their vehicle.

 

Vehicle technology use and education

For AAA’s survey, respondents used a list of fifteen technologies to identify the safety features currently available in their primary vehicles. The most prevalent were integrated bluetooth (47%), backup/parking assist (40%), navigation assistance (28%), and voice control (20%). Adaptive headlights, drowsy driver alerts, and semi-autonomous parking assistance were far less common.

Respondents were also asked how they learn to use new technology. 49 percent figured it out on their own, nearly 20 percent were taught by the dealer, and about 12 percent learned by consulting the owner’s manual.  More than 13 percent report never learning how to use the new technology.

 

Aftermarket vehicle adaptations

“Small adjustments can significantly improve driving safety for everyone,” Conde said.

In order of frequency, here are the top aftermarket vehicle adaptations among those who reported using at least one:

  • Driver seat cushions (45%): Improve posture, comfort and visibility on the road
  • Convex and/or multifaceted mirrors (39%): Increase the field of vision
  • Seat belt extensions (6%): Assist drivers with limited mobility to fasten their seatbelt
  • Upper body support (5%): Improve posture and comfort for shoulder/back problems
  • Push button ignition (3%): Avoid painful turning of key due to arthritis or joint pain

 

Consult a professional

AAA urges mature motorists to seek the advice of a trained professional, such as an occupational therapist, who can help them address possible instances of muscle and joint pain or weakness.

Older Driver - joint pain

“There are clear health benefits when senior drivers are able to remain safely independent,” Conde said. “Previous research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that seniors who have stopped driving are almost two times more likely to suffer from depression and nearly five times more likely to enter a long-term care facility than those who remain behind the wheel.”

 

Resources for seniors

AAA is partnering with the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) to support Older Driver Safety Awareness Week. AAA also offers the Smart Features for Older Drivers tool to help senior drivers identify inexpensive devices and vehicle features that can optimize their comfort and safety.  For this and plenty of other great information, go to seniordriving.aaa.com.

As part of AAA’s ongoing effort to advocate for senior mobility issues, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is in the process of completing a multisite, multi-year study. The LongROAD (Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers) study is the largest and most comprehensive senior driver database, incorporating nearly 3,000 participants in five locations.  As data becomes available, AAA will share it with the public.

“When circumstances change, it’s important to be able to adapt, and at some point, a number of mature motorists will elect to stop driving, but that isn’t a step that should be taken lightly,” Conde said. “AAA is committed to providing seniors and their families with the information they need to make sound decisions.”