The American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates that by 2020, there could be 40 million drivers aged 65 or over. Nine out of ten of those drivers could have physical needs that affect safe and comfortable driving such as vision, pain, balance and range of motion issues. In the same survey, AAA found that older drivers buy far fewer “smart” vehicles with features like high-contrast instrument panels and multi-adjustable seats. There are several programs underway to help educate older drivers, assess their needs and abilities, and make car buying a more personalized experience for them.
Coordinator of the older driver initiative for the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), Elin Schold Davis, agrees that driving is a matter of ability, not just age. She says, “We need to keep them on the road as long as we can, but safely.”
For older drivers who aren’t looking to buy a new car, the Car Fit program, which was started by the AOTA, AARP and AOTA, is designed to fit the driver with an appropriate vehicle and help them make adjustments. The program’s website helps older drivers find a free local program in their area for a driving assessment that can range from 20 minutes to 3 hours, depending on needs. Trained professionals can help identify issues as well as teach drivers ways to drive more safely and comfortably. Additionally, AAA offers a Smart Features for Older Drivers tool for shoppers who need to find a new vehicle that matches their physical needs.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) may begin a “silver” rating program to further assist with car purchases. The NHTSA is currently analyzing data involving the possible relationships between physical changes in drivers, including cognition, perception and behavior and auto accidents.
While changes are being made, the NHTSA recommends that in the meantime, older drivers purchase cars with crash avoidance technologies such as lane departure warnings, electronic stability control and forward collision warning systems as well as referring to the current car safety rating systems.
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