Technology is being used to help keep older drivers safe on the road. Senior driving safety is among the fastest growing health and safety issues in the nation as the 70 million baby boomers begin hitting the doors to retirement.
Our Tuscaloosa personal injury lawyers know many families struggle with the issue of helping parents or older loved ones determine when the time has come to hand over the keys. Such conversations can be difficult, even contentious; yet it is a critical step in the aging process and can prevent a family member from being involved in a serious or fatal Alabama car accident.
In Florida, the Silver Alert program uses digital highway signs to locate lost or confused seniors; in the three years since the program’s inception, 44 older drivers have been helped.
This month, General Motor’s OnStar program announced it would be available for non-GM customers. Meanwhile, the Alzheimer’s Association is marketing a program called “Comfort Zone.” The program offers CalAmp, which is installed in a car and comes with a $39.99 monthly fee. It can locate a car within two minutes. The Sendum Tracker costs $44.95 and can locate a car in 15 minutes. At the low end are programs for as little as $14.95 that provide the location of a vehicle or person once a day.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports more than 5,000 drivers over the age of 65 were killed in car accidents in 2009; another 187,000 were injured. Alabama car accidents claimed the lives of 135 older drivers that year.
The problem is particularly acute when you consider that older drivers are most likely to follow basic safety instructions, such as wearing their seat belt. They are also most likely to limit driving to the safest drive times — the middle of the day during the week. Still, those over the age of 65 see their risk of an accident steadily increase. Those over 75 are more at risk of an accident even than teenagers, who are typically seen as the most at-risk drivers on the road.
A total of 32 million older adults were licensed drivers in 2008 — a 20 percent increase from 1999. Senior citizens make up 15 percent of all licensed drivers; a number expected to double over the next two decades.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has a number of resources to assist family members in talking with older loved ones about driving safety. Signs that may indicate it’s time for such a conversation include:
-Getting lost on routine routes.
-New dents or scratches in their car.
-Being ticketed for driving violations.
-Crashes or near crashes.
-Being told to stop driving because of health reasons.
-Feeling overwhelmed by traffic or road signs or signals.
-Medication that affects driving.
-Driving too fast or too slow.
-Illness that affects driving skills.
AAA offers a website, www.seniordrivers.org, dedicated to the issue. The site includes:
-A 5-minute screening test for older drivers.
-A self-rating brochure.
-Car Fit — a program designed to make sure an older driver’s car is a proper fit.
-Planning for continued mobility.
-Education and training tips.
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