Accidents Involving Older Drivers Up in NYS; AAA Study Shows Few Conversations About Safety
More than four out of five drivers older than 65 in New York State have never talked with anyone about increasing risks of traffic accidents as they age. A new AAA of Western and Central New York study has implications for safety on the roads due to more older drivers.
For most people, it takes an accident or health crisis for the topic of when to limit an older person’s driving to come up with family members or physicians. Spokesperson Lindsay Kensy says the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Study comes at a time of increasing accidents among older drivers.
“There were more than 52,000 accidents involving senior drivers in 2017, just in New York State. And that was the most in a decade. The major reason for those crashes were failure to yield right-of-way. So we really want to make sure that the awareness is out there that if your driving ability is decreasing -- maybe you notice it, maybe a family member notices it – that it is time to reevaluate.”
The study found when people did have the discussion, about two-thirds of the time it took some incident such as falling asleep at the wheel or trouble staying in the lane.
MOST COMMON REASONS SENIORS HAD DISCUSSIONS ON THEIR DRIVING SAFETY
(AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers (LongROAD) project)
- 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
“We see that older drivers are outliving their ability to drive safely by 7-10 years. So that’s a little scary. If you’re saying, ‘oh my gosh, we should have had this discussion about 10 year ago, that’s 10 years too late.’ And that implication is that there could be incidents and crashes and injuries and just avoidable incident.”
Despite those ramifications, Kensy notes it’s uncomfortable to address taking away someone’s freedom.
“It is very hard. If you think about it right now, would you want someone taking way your keys? So we really want people to start early and talk often before something happens. Try to be positive; be supportive and focus on ways that you can help them be safe behind the wheel right now.”
That might be an evaluation of eyesight and whether medications could impair driving. Or, a special car-fit event or an occupational therapist might find adjustments or devices to improve driver safety. Kensy says the conversation should be one-on-one so someone doesn’t feel ganged up upon.
ADVICE FOR FAMILIES WHEN TALKING TO A SENIOR ABOUT DRIVER SAFETY
- 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.
Triple A has a form called the Driver Planning Agreement to assist – well in advance of someone’s skills diminishing or an incident that might hurt them or others.