As the number of older motorists grows, a variety of groups—both in the automotive industry and outside of it—are offering resources and advice to help them stay safe on the road and choose the right vehicle.
Older drivers may have limitations they didn’t have when they were younger, but that doesn’t mean their car keys should be taken away, according to associations that have taken steps to help older drivers stay behind the wheel safely.
There were 47.8 million drivers over age 65 on the road in 2015, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Often, these drivers are very experienced and well-suited to operate a vehicle.
But aging brings new challenges for drivers. The auto industry has added a variety of features to vehicles that anticipated the shifting needs of older drivers, such as power seats that can be preset, a push-button ignition, and automatic windshield wipers, noted a recent New York Times article. AAA has a brochure, created with the help of the University of Florida Institute for Mobility, to highlight these features, which help drivers who have a diminished range of motion, arthritis, or vision problems.
“There’s no such thing as the best car for an older person,” Jacob Nelson, AAA’s director of traffic safety advocacy and research, told the Times. “What matters are the features, and the features appropriate for one older driver are not necessarily appropriate for another.”
The auto industry isn’t alone in meeting this demand. AARP, for example, offers “Smart Driver” courses for its members around the country. The program is designed for motorists who haven’t received formal driver’s education in more than 30 years.
“By taking a driver refresher course, you’ll learn the current rules of the road, defensive driving techniques, and how to operate your vehicle more safely in today’s increasingly challenging driving environment,” AARP explains on its website. “You’ll learn how you can manage and accommodate common age-related changes in vision, hearing, and reaction time.”
And the American Occupational Therapy Association, which sponsors Older Driver Safety Awareness Week each December, assists older drivers by evaluating how physical changes might affect their driving skills and, when possible, offering rehabilitation.
Elin Schold Davis, who heads AOTA’s Older Driver Initiative, told the Times that the goal was “to support people to enable them to drive as long as possible.”
“It’s not about taking away the keys based on age, it’s about function,” she added.