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Aging Drivers Can Present Some Behind-The-Wheel Safety Issues

Michael Spooneybarger/ CREO

An aging population with a need for independence can be problematic when it comes to matters related to driving. 

Fatality rates for drivers begin to climb after age 65, studies show. From 75 to 84, they are equal to fatality rates of teenage drivers. For drivers 85 and over the rates are nearly 4 times that of teens.  By 2030 all baby boomers will be at least 65 and experts predict they will responsible for more than a fourth of all fatal crashes. 

These statistics prompted a “Safe Driving for Older Adults Symposium” at the conference center Thursday on the University of West Florida’s main campus.

“Learning never stops because our environment keeps changing and so do we,” said Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan during introductory remarks.

 Nationally, there are 36 million drivers over the age of 65 in the United States, and 24 million of those are older than 70, said UWF Center on Aging’s director, Dr. Rodney Guttmann. Numerous studies show that as people grow older, the likelihood of them being involved in a car accident increases. Specific problems include making left turns, driving at night, merging into traffic, following signals and changing lanes.

There are several reasons for this, said Dr. Steve Kass, an industrial psychologist at the University of West Florida.  Starting around age 50 to 55, there is often a slow decrease in how well people process information and judge driving events, such as the distance of oncoming traffic, according to “Florida’s Guide for Aging Drivers,” a publication from the Florida Department of Transportation. The changes of aging do not affect all drivers at the same age or in the same way. Still, specific skills such as vision, memory, strength, flexibility and quick reaction time decline with age.

To compensate for the obstacles that happen naturally as we age, Kass suggested older drivers remain physically active, manage chronic conditions, plan routes ahead of time, understand limitations, and drive under optimal conditions. Other recommendations include avoiding construction and unfamiliar routes, and driving at night or during bad weather.

Other speakers included Katie Arnold from the Florida Department of Transportation’s Safe Mobility for Life Program  that manages and evaluates aging road user safety and mobility activities, and Tonya Ellis with Escambia County Area Transit who discussed alternate forms of transportation for those who must retire from driving.  FDOT produces the Guide for Aging Drivers to help older adults continue to drive as long as safely possible while sharing information to help prepare for the day when they retire from driving.  The guide is a printed version of the information contained on the website safeandmobileseniors.org.  

Free copies are available from: 

Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy

Safe Mobility for Life Resource Center

636 West Call Street    

Tallahassee, FL 32306

Email: safe-mobility-for-life@fsu.edu

Phone: 850-644-8145

The guide contains a list of warning signs to help determine when it may be necessary to limit or stop driving and a self-assessment test to help older drivers determine whether they need to begin exploring their options. 


Also, to find a classroom or online course in driving safely, call AAA Auto Club-Safe Driving for Mature Operators at 1-866-659-1317. Or call the AARP Driver Safety Program at 1-888-227-7669.  

This article is part of a collaboration between WUWF and the UWF Center for Research and Economic Opportunity.