How’s your driving?

How’s your driving?

The baby boomer generation is the fastest-growing demographic in the U.S.—and still behind the steering wheel.

By 2030, partly due to the aging of the boomers, there will be more than 70 million people age 65 and older, and approximately 85 percent of them will be licensed drivers. AAA, a not-for-profit organization with motoring and travel services, notes older motorists are known for practicing safe-driving habits by wearing safety belts, not drinking and driving, and observing speed limits, yet are more likely to be injured or killed in a crash due to age-related fragility. With the exception of teenagers, seniors have the highest crash death rate per mile driven.

AAA, in an effort to help keep seniors driving for as long as safely possible, offers a brochure titled “Drivers 65 Plus,” which features a 15-question self-rating driving assessment. How a driver answers the questions helps determine their driving capabilities, including strengths and weaknesses. Examples of questions include “I signal and check to the rear when I change lanes,” “My thoughts wander when I drive,” and “I think I am slower than I used to be in reacting to dangerous driving situations.”

AAA also has information on other types of driver assessments, some of which require a fee. Local office locations include Tacoma (253-756-3050), Tukwila (425-251-6040), and Bremerton (360-377-0081).

The National Institute on Aging (NIA), a federal government agency, notes that while many older adults value the independence of driving, some natural effects of aging can alter a person’s ability to drive safely. For instance:

  • Stiff joints and muscles. Arthritis, which is common among older adults, can make it harder to turn your head to look back, turn the steering wheel quickly, or brake safely. Reaction time and reflexes can get slower, too.
  • Trouble seeing. Diminished eyesight can be a problem when reading street or traffic signs or when driving at night. Eye diseases, such as glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration, can also cause problems. NIA recommends that drivers 60 or older get a dilated eye exam from every one to two years.
  • Trouble hearing. This can make it harder to notice horns, sirens, or even noises coming from your own car. According to NIA, drivers should get a hearing checkup at least every three years after age 50.
  • Medications.  Some drugs include a warning about driving, but even those that don’t might have a negative effect. Ask a doctor or pharmacist.
  • Certain medical conditions. The effects of Parkinson’s disease and strokes can mean it’s no longer safe to drive.
  • Dementia. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, some people can keep driving. But as memory and decision-making get worse, they will likely need to stop. Family and friends need to monitor the person’s driving ability and take action if they observe a potential problem, such as forgetting how to find familiar places like the grocery store or the way home.

Sources: AAA and National Institute on Aging.