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Are the senior citizens in your life safe drivers?

With baby boomers accounting for a significant number of drivers, it’s more important than ever to talk about safety on New York roadways. The number of motorists over 65 has increased by 32% since 2009, and the number of traffic deaths for this age group has risen by 30%.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) highlighted these safety concerns by designating Dec. 7 to Dec. 11 as Older Driver Safety Awareness Week. The NHTSA hopes to spark conversations among families to assess their older loved ones’ abilities to drive.

How does age affect driving ability?

The NHTSA reports that 6,907 drivers aged 65 and older died on American roadways in 2018, which is the most recent year these statistics are available. Older drivers accounted for 19% of all traffic fatalities that year. In New York, 208 senior drivers died in 2018, amounting to 16.3% of the state’s fatalities.

While getting older doesn’t automatically make someone a bad driver, the aging process affects each person differently regarding their eyesight, physical fitness and reflexes. Some of these issues may be addressed medically or by adjusting driving habits and increasing skills.

Ask these difficult questions

Having a conversation with an older loved one over their driving abilities can be painful as many seniors view driving as a personal declaration of independence. But, asking yourself these questions can also show them how much you care by identifying warning signs:

  • Are they getting lost on familiar routes?

  • Are there any new dents or scratches on their car?

  • Have they received a traffic ticket for a violation?

  • Were they involved in a crash or had a near-miss?

  • Have doctors advised them to stop driving due to health reasons?

  • Do they get confused over stoplights or road signs?

  • Are they taking any medication that could affect their ability to drive?

  • Do they drive too fast or too slow for no apparent reason?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it’s essential to address the situation with your loved one and take steps to keep them and others safe.

How can you help?

The NHTSA provides resources for addressing concerns over an older person’s driving abilities. The agency offers a tip sheet titled “How to Understand and Influence Older Drivers” on its website. Additional information is available through the AARP and the USAA Education Foundation.

Driving ability should never be judged on age alone. However, recognizing changes to an older loved one’s vision, health and reflexes are crucial for protecting them and others. In many cases, adjustments can be made to keep them safely motoring for years to come.

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