90 Percent of seniors could be driving safer cars

AAA OKLAHOMA Modified: December 4, 2012 at 10:45 am •  Published: December 4, 2012
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Data from a new AAA survey reveals that only one in 10 senior drivers with age-related health issues is driving a vehicle that has features that can improve safety, features such as six-way power seats, thick steering wheels and auto-dimming mirrors.

Nearly 90 percent of motorists 65 and older suffer from health issues that impact their driving safety. Finding a car that not only adapts to conditions such as lack of flexibility or muscle strength, while maintaining safety and comfort, can be difficult

“Despite a growing number of older drivers on the road, crashes and deaths involving senior drivers are 15 percent lower than they were just 10 years ago,” said Chuck Mai, spokesman for AAA Oklahoma.

“AAA suspects that a combination of safer roads, safer vehicles and safer drivers may explain this positive finding. Seniors are healthier than ever before and doing a great job of self-regulating when and where to drive. But are they as safe as they can be? We don’t think so.”

To better equip the “silver tsunami” for driving safety and comfort, AAA has updated its Smart Features for Older Drivers resource to address a broader range of health conditions and include new data on 2012 vehicle features.

Smart Features now identifies vehicle features that optimize older driver safety and comfort, lists current vehicles with those features, and allows users to explore their individual needs through an interactive online tool – available free to the public at SeniorDriving.AAA.com.

The Web site also allows free access to a Driver Planning Agreement, which helps families plan together with older family members for continued, safe mobility. (NEWS EDITORS: This agreement is attached for your use.)

“With 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day, we know that families will be coping with these age-related driving safety issues for years to come,” said Mai.

“The good news is that specific ‘smart features’ on today’s cars can help older drivers and their families deal with these conditions. AAA’s goal is to allow senior drivers to drive as safely as possible for as long as possible.”

Smart Features addresses a wide variety of conditions that are commonly experienced with aging, including diminished vision, arthritic joints, hip and leg pain and limited upper-body range of motion.

“As a person ages, muscle strength, range of motion and vision tend to diminish and can affect driving ability,” said Dr. Sherrilene Classen, Director, Institute for Mobility, Activity and Participation at the University of Florida.

“Not only do these conditions affect a driver’s comfort, their presence can also reduce the ability to safely execute the complex task of driving.”

Because everyone ages differently, AAA recommends older drivers look for vehicles that address their specific needs and medical conditions. Some of the recommendations included in Smart Features for Older Drivers include:

· 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.

Underscoring the critical need to improve older driver safety is new research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety that found that when older drivers are involved in a crash, they are more likely to be killed simply because of their fragility.

But the research also found significant gains in overall motorist safety in the past decade. While crashes per mile driven decreased for drivers of all ages between 1995 and 2010 by 28 percent, the biggest decreases were found in drivers ages 75-79, down 42 percent, and drivers ages 80-84, down 40 percent.

CarFit events are sponsored free by AAA Oklahoma periodically across the state for seniors to learn how well they “fit” in their vehicle and how to get the most out of their car’s safety equipment. The auto club offers both online and classroom driver refresher courses that earn auto insurance discounts. Go to Mature Driver Safety in the AAA News & Safety section of AAA.com to learn more or call (918) 748-1071.

AAA is highlighting these tools and resources in support of the American Occupational Therapists Association (AOTA) Older Driver Safety Awareness Week, Dec. 3–7. The week is an opportunity to promote the importance of mobility and transportation, which enables older adults to remain active in their communities.

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