Help available for older drivers to stay on the road


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Beverly Lancaster, a 60-year-old resident of Viera, is a retired U.S. Air Force nurse. She has had her driver’s license for 43 years.

Ernest Arico

14,675,160.

That’s the total number of licensed drivers in the state of Florida, based on 2016 figures listed at statista.com.

Of that number, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reports that 4,588,198 or 29.2 percent, represent licensed drivers age 60 and older.

Older Americans today are healthier and more active than ever before. The aging baby boomer generation is the fastest-growing demographic in the United States.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that by 2030, there will be more than 70 million people age 65 or older, and about 85 to 90 percent of them will be licensed to drive.

In fact, seniors are outliving their ability to drive safely by an average of seven to 10 years and, for the first time in history, plans for our “driving retirement” should be considered along with our financial retirement plans.

Many law enforcement agencies report that senior drivers are among the safest drivers on the road and often reduce their risk of injury by wearing seat belts, not drinking and driving and by observing speed limits. However, statistics also show seniors 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.

Beverly Lancaster, a 60-year-old retired U.S. Air Force nurse living in Viera, said she hopes to continue driving for many more years to come.

“I need to keep driving because it’s part of my independence,” she said.

It is a fact of life that people grow older each day. And with increasing age comes changes in physical, mental and sensory abilities that can challenge a person’s ability to continue to drive safely.

But don’t worry. There are a variety of safe travel and driving options for the elderly because the real need is a broader awareness of the solutions, rather than a narrow focus on the problem.

This month, from Dec. 3 to 7, is Older Driver Safety Awareness Week. The week aims to promote understanding of the importance of mobility and transportation to ensure older adults remain active in the community — shopping, working or volunteering — with the confidence that transportation will not be the barrier to strand them at home.

Two organizations that promote safe driving for the elderly are the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) and the American Automobile Association (AAA).

The AOTA believes that occupational therapy practitioners have the skills to evaluate a person’s overall ability to operate a vehicle safely and provide rehabilitation, if necessary, its website reports.

Many practitioners are specially trained in the full scope of driving rehabilitation. Occupational therapy practitioners work with older adults as well as their families and caregivers, offering individualized assessment. They can identify individuals’ unique challenges and find strategies that will help them live life to its fullest by keeping them active, healthy and safe in their communities, its website added.

In recognition of the changing demographics and the increase in the number of older drivers, AAA recently launched “Lifelong Safe Mobility.”

This initiative is dedicated to keeping seniors safe and mobile and driving as long as safely possible.

Senior safety and mobility is a quality of life issue, the website reports. By working to protect and promote it, you can help maintain confidence and independence among seniors, and foster a society where older adults can live to their full potential.

Each day during Older Driver Safety Awareness Week, AOTA, AAA and the Florida Department of Transportation will bring attention to a different aspect of older driver safety.

For example, AOTA reports on its website that drivers who find it painful to rotate their body to reach the seatbelt can benefit from a cloth loop attached to it so they can pull the seatbelt on with only slight turning. Those with stiff fingers from arthritis can depress the seat-belt latch with a small tool that they leave in the car.

Also, taking notice of changes such as having trouble seeing at night can be remedied by choosing to restrict driving to daylight hours. Those experiencing anxiety in heavy traffic might find errands to be more pleasant if they plan to drive at times other than rush hour.

Another proactive way for older adults to enhance their safety behind the wheel is to be sure their car’s adjustments are best for them by participating in a CarFit event.

CarFit is an educational program developed by the American Society on Aging in collaboration with AAA, AARP and AOTA. It is designed as a volunteer-run program available free of charge in local communities.

The volunteer leaders include occupational therapy practitioners who use a checklist to ensure that each driver’s car is adjusted properly for the best “fit,” and that the safety features of the vehicle are explained, increasing the likelihood that they are being used optimally. The entire process takes about 20 minutes.

Conversations at CarFit events are geared toward educating drivers on ways they can increase their comfort and safety on the road in their own vehicles. Knowing how to adjust mirrors and the proper way to sit in the vehicle are just two examples of how CarFit can save lives. Attendees receive a goody-bag with resources, including information on driving self-evaluations, suggestions for addressing common problems, helpful websites and driving rehabilitation programs.

“The CarFit check-up is intended to spark a conversation about taking advantage of all the safety features our cars have to offer,” said Elin Schold Davis, project coordinator for AOTA’s Older Driver Initiative. “Occupational therapy practitioners and driving specialists are not in the business of taking licenses away but supporting people to live life to its fullest by educating drivers and their families about the changes that have the potential to affect driving and the resources available.”

For a listing of all the CarFit events in Florida, go to the website car-fit.org/carfit/RegisterCarFit/FL.

Another avenue available for senior drivers is the Mature Defensive Driver class.

Many mature drivers have never looked back since receiving a driver’s license. Traffic laws, automobiles, conditions, your driving habits and the roads you travel every day have changed over time. Even the most experienced drivers will benefit from brushing up on driving and safety skills. In addition, you will save money on your insurance rates.

The class is a Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) approved course. It is for drivers 55 and older. Senior drivers that complete this course will receive up to a 10 percent insurance discount on their automobile insurance rates during the next three years. This includes Geico, USAA, Progressive, State Farm, Liberty Mutual, AARP and all other carriers licensed in Florida.

The Mature Driver Insurance Discount Course is available in a classroom or online.

Another program available for mature drivers is through the Florida Department of Transportation’s Safe Mobility for Life Program.

Gail M. Holley, the program’s research manager, said the state is planning numerous events during Older Driver Safety Awareness Week.

“We want to promote the importance of knowing how to drive safely longer and how to remain active and independent long after transitioning from driving,” she said.

Holley said the Safe Mobility for Life Coalition’s mission is to implement a strategic plan to increase the safety, access and mobility of Florida’s aging road users and eliminate fatalities and reduce serious injuries.

“The organizations that represent the Safe Mobility for Life Coalition all have responsibilities and/or interests in aging road user safety and mobility,” she said.

Holley said during Florida’s Older Driver Safety Awareness Week a special website will go on line live. The address is: safemobilityfl.com/ODSAW2018.htm

The webpage is a one-stop shop to promote the program’s keys to achieve safe mobility for life — understand, be proactive and plan.

From the site, Holley said people will be able to:

Find an event near them with an interactive map.

Order educational materials.

Schedule a workshop.

Download an outreach toolkit.

Sign up for the e-newsletter that will launch Dec. 3.

Holley said additional links available are the program’s community calendar where they will post all CarFit, AARP and AAA driver safety courses, and FLOWmobile locations when they become available. The links are:  calendar.google.com/calendar/ and Florida’s Guide for Aging Drivers: safemobilityfl.com/Outreach.htm#guide.