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Avoiding the silver tsunami wipe out: Helping aging parents drive safely

By Posted : 04/12/2012

keeping senior drivers safeWhat unjust timing. Your retired parents now have the time to do all the activities on their bucket list, but it's becoming apparent they will eventually lose the ability to drive to them on their own.

The majority of seniors fret about losing their independence when it's time to fork over the car keys, according to a recent senior motorist survey by the American Automobile Association (AAA). Eighty-eight percent of drivers age 65 and older said that the inability to drive would be a problem, and 57 percent said it would be a serious problem.

The survey of seniors' fears about diminishing driving skills comes at a time when the nation is experiencing a "silver tsunami" as baby boomers approach retirement and as their parents live longer.

The population of Americans 65 and older will grow by 60 percent by 2025, when one in every five drivers will be over the age of 65, according to TRIP, a nonprofit transportation research group that  just issued its own report on older drivers, "Keeping Baby Boomers Mobile: Preserving the Mobility and Safety of Older Americans."

The risk of injuries and collision starts to increase as drivers reach their 70s. Drivers in their late 70s have about the same number of injury-involved crashes per mile driven as drivers in their early 20s, according to the AAA.

On the upside, the AAA survey also showed that seniors practice safe driving by avoiding risky driving situations. Fifty percent don't drive at night and 61 percent avoid driving in bad weather.

Tips for keeping senior drivers safe

While many senior motorists may be prudent about curbing their risky driving habits, there are also ways you can help your elderly parents reduce their drive time. The first step is to immediately begin the dialogue, says Lauren Watral, founder of Raleigh Geriatric Care Management in Raleigh, N.C.

Watral is also certified to teach the senior driving safety program called Beyond Driving With Dignity, which is administered by the elderly motorist safety group Keeping Us Safe. She offers the following tips for bringing up the topic with your parents:

  • The conversation with the family’s older driver about safety needs to start today, regardless of where the older driver is in the continuum of age-related diminishing driving skills.
  • Instead of using terms like “taking away the keys” and “taking the car away,” use less intrusive terms like “driving retirement” and “transitioning from the driver’s seat to the passenger seat.”
  • All siblings must be on the same page when discussing driving with the aging parent.  
  • If you notice a decrease in driving skills, base conversations with your loved one on observed facts about their driving -- difficulty turning to see when backing up, trouble navigating turns, difficulty staying in the lane --rather than an on opinion or general terms.
  • Maintain parents' dignity and talk to them as an adult, not as a child.
  • Don’t assume or dictate your parents’ wishes.

"The issue can, and does, divide families,” Watral says, “and if not handled properly by the adult children, the older driver may become depressed, isolated and may eventually suffer physical decline."

Staying mobile, independent under limited driving conditions

The good news is that she has seen instances where the elderly become more active once they stop or reduce their own driving. Their new transportation arrangements allow them more freedom, in some cases, to travel to more places without the limitations they may have placed on themselves to avoid bad weather or rush-hour traffic.

Once senior motorists have agreed to limit their drive time (for example, by only driving familiar routes during the day), Watral offers the following advice for preventing them from feeling isolated:

  • Help the senior driver use all available resources to figure out how and when to use public transportation, private and volunteer transportation services.
  • Consider home delivery of products, such as groceries, and services, such as hair styling.
  • Have a friend, relative or neighbor “make a day of it" by helping the older driver fulfill their transportation needs.
  • In some cases, e-mail or telephone conversations may help relieve the need for personal visits.

Mature driving courses may reduce car insurance rates

For aging parents who are still driving, even if only under certain conditions, another option for shoring up safety is to have them take a so-called mature driving course. In some cases doing so could also provide a discount on auto insurance premiums.

"Assuming the individual is still receptive to learning new skills to help them remain a safe driver, and can see beyond the short-term benefit of savings on their insurance premium, mature driving courses are excellent at what they are designed to do -- serve as a driver refresher course," says Watral. "They are not, however, designed to help older drivers face the decision surrounding a possible retirement from driving."   

 Thirty-four states require car insurers to offer discounts to people completing a state-approved senior driving course, according to AARP.

Those auto insurance discounts can vary based on the participant's age, driving record  and other factors, but in some cases are up to 10 percent.

An Insurance.com analysis of auto insurance quotes showed a savings of about $24 a year in auto insurance for taking a mature-driver test. The scenario assumed the driver is a 72-year-old widower living in rural Florida, has a clean driving record, drives a 2000 Oldsmobile Bravada and carries personal injury protection of $10,000, bodily injury liability of $20,000 per accident and $10,000 liability for property damage.


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