Older Driver Safety Highlighted in December

Among the many health awareness observances we support, National Older Driver Safety Awareness rises to the top in December. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) leads the charge on National Older Driver Safety Awareness Week, which occurs December 2–6, 2013.

Older Drive Safety Awareness Week aims at promoting understanding of the importance of mobility and transportation to ensuring older adults remain active in the community, with the confidence that transportation will not be the barrier to strand them at home.

AOTA, AAA (the nationwide automobile and travel agency), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, The Hartford, and AARP offer the following tools:

AAA's Roadwise Rx is a one-of-a-kind tool that helps you check whether medications can cause driving impairment. Why? Because more than 80 percent of drivers age 65 and older regularly take medications, but only half have talked to their health care provider about possible safety issues related to the medications. Roadwise Rx helps motorists understand how medications—both prescription and over-the-counter—may affect their ability to drive safely. It provides personalized feedback on how medications, herbal supplements and foods, and their interactions with each other, can impact safety behind the wheel.  Drivers are instructed to discuss the confidential results with their doctor or pharmacist to learn how to mitigate possible crash risks. This and other tools can be accessed at SeniorDriving.AAA.com.

AAA also helps older drivers identify vehicle features that support their safety as they encounter visual, physical and mental changes associated with aging. The interactive tool at Smart Features for Older Drivers allows you to consider not only safety features and comfort, but also design features that can ease problems you may experience with your knees, hips, legs, hands, motor skills, range of motion, vision, and cognition. The tool produces a list of car makes and models that may be right for you, and includes notes on manufacturer's suggested retail price and fuel economy.

Drivers suffering from hip or leg pain, decreased leg strength or limited knee range of motion should look for vehicles with six-way adjustable power seats and seat heights that come between the driver's mid-thigh and lower buttocks. These features can make it easier for drivers to enter and exit a vehicle.

Drivers with arthritic hands, painful or stiff fingers or diminished fine motor skills benefit from four-door models, thick steering wheels, keyless entry and ignition, power mirrors and seats and larger dashboard controls with buttons. These features reduce the amount of grip strength needed and reduce pain associated with turning or twisting motions.

Drivers with diminished vision or problems with high-low contrast will find vehicles with auto-dimming mirrors, large audio and climate controls and displays with contrasting text helpful. These features can reduce blinding glare and make controls and displays easier to see.

If you or a loved one continues to drive at an advanced age, we hope these tools help with safety. Remember, too: there are other options! Read Making It Easier to Leave Your Car at Home in our October 2013 issue for transportation solutions that are right for you.

Irene Stewart, a planner at Aging and Disability Services, the Area Agency on Aging for Seattle-King County, compiled this article with support from AAA Washington, which has served members and the traveling public since 1904.  For information on the free resources AAA offers to senior drivers, visit SeniorDriving.AAA.com.