I was interviewed recently by Wisconsin Public Radio on the topic of older drivers. There is a bill in the Wisconsin state legislature to require drivers over age 75 to renew their license more often than younger drivers. Families so often struggle with discussing driving with older relatives because it’s such an important ability to quality of life and because public transportation is so limited, especially in rural areas. Here’s the description of the piece: http://www.wpr.org/challenges-elderly-driving You can download the audio or listen online from that same link.
Driving is an important issue for older adults and their families for many reasons. Older adults more often suffer severe injury and death when involved in vehicle accidents, because of age-related physical changes and chronic illness. Accident prevention is therefore an urgent goal. There are a number of helpful Web pages on driving in later life. AARP has a driver safety page on their site, which highlights their driver safety course for senior drivers, offered both online and face to face. The course costs between $16 and $20 depending on whether the person is an AARP member. I have my students take the We Need to Talk online seminar on the same AARP page, which discusses when to stop driving and how to discuss driving cessation with older drivers. It helps them to have a more empathic view of driving and understand what driving means to people, beyond just getting from point A to point B.
CarFit is an organization that provides events in which older drivers bring their vehicle, and trained volunteers assess how to better fit the car to the needs and limitations of the driver. While not every area of the U.S. is covered by these events, the Web site has a number of videos that illustrate proper alignment or fit of the driver to the car, such as the optimal distance between the steering wheel and the driver’s chest to prevent or minimize injury from an airbag, mirror adjustment for effective view of the side and rear, or the minimum distance needed of the line-of-sight above the steering wheel for a safe view of the road.
The Hartford Insurance Company has a very useful Web site on Family Conversations With Older Drivers. The site offers conversation starters, conversation planners, a Warning Signs Worksheet, information on driving evaluation, a worksheet to evaluate transportation alternatives, and other helpful information. The company also provides quite a few free guidebooks with information on a number of aspects of driving, in both electronic and paper form.
The American Medical Association has resources for physicians on older drivers, including a Web-based educational course called “Medical Fitness to Drive: Is Your Patient at Risk?” and a “Physician’s Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers – 2010 Edition”, developed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Guide can be downloaded and has information useful to professionals and consumers.
Finally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has an Older Drivers Education Web page with electronic brochures on adapting vehicles, conversations with older drivers, safe driving, and driving transition.
With the Baby Boom generation aging, there will be more and more older drivers on the road. We need to be both sensitive and sensible so that the safety of everyone on the highway is optimized while the rights and quality of life of the older drivers are preserved as long as possible. It’s gratifying that there are so many resources available to help us address the issue in informed and compassionate ways. Sue Sweeney, Chair, Gerontology Department, Madonna University