Older adults with discomfort or low confidence while driving are adjusting their driving patterns to avoid driving at night, on the freeway, in afternoon rush hour traffic, or in unfamiliar areas, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Some of the self-regulated changes older drivers make can be unnecessary and do not always improve safety. To extend their mobility and reduce risk on the road, AAA recommends older drivers consult a healthcare professional when feelings of driving discomfort arise.
“When older drivers become uncomfortable in certain driving situations, some may assume they have to live with the discomfort while others unnecessarily reduce their mobility,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “By addressing issues of discomfort early, older drivers can learn more about age-related changes to their body and discuss strategies with their healthcare provider to best compensate for declines.”
Researchers from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety partnered with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) to evaluate how an older drivers’ (ages 65-79) comfort level on the road affects their driving behaviors. Using GPS data loggers to track driving patterns, they found that older drivers who report lower comfort driving at night, during afternoon rush hour, on the freeway and in unfamiliar areas also self-regulated their behavior to reduce or avoid driving in those situations.
While self-regulation is often the best solution to allow older drivers to continue driving safely, some changes can create unintended consequences on the roadway. For example, using side streets to avoid the freeway can also increase an older drivers’ risk of a crash by increasing the distance traveled and their exposure on the road.
“Older drivers should not let physical discomfort and low confidence limit their mobility or safety, especially when your doctor may help you find ways to address these issues,” said Rhonda Shah, AAA manager of Traffic Safety Advocacy and Community Impact. “Oftentimes, simple adjustments to your vehicle, a driver refresher course or a change to your prescription medications can improve comfort and safety behind the wheel. The key is to speak up about it.”
When older drivers begin to experience physical changes to the body or feelings of driving discomfort, AAA recommends:
- Talk About It: Visit a doctor or occupational therapy driver rehabilitation specialist to determine the cause of your discomfort and evaluate potential solutions.
- Educate Yourself: You can evaluate your driving performance using tools like AAA’s Driver65Plus to determine your strengths and weaknesses and learn ways to improve your driving. Consider taking a driver improvement course to help refresh your driving knowledge, get the most out of your vehicle and reduce risk on the road.
- Make Changes: Once you know the cause of your discomfort, make needed vehicle adjustments. Free programs like CarFit can help older drivers learn about changes they can make to their vehicle to better fit their needs.
“Maintaining overall wellness, including flexibility is also integral to driving and helps to prevent fatigue and discomfort while behind the wheel,” said Anita Lorz Villagrana, Public Affairs Manager, Community Programs & Traffic Safety for the Automobile Club of Southern California. “Being alert and aware is imperative to driving safely and to recognize potential hazards on the road.”
AAA recommends a series of stretches to improve neck, shoulder, trunk, back and overall body flexibility. As a leading advocate for senior driver safety, AAA also offers a variety of programs and resources to help older adults improve their driving performance and avoid crashes. For more information on AAA resources for older drivers, such as RoadWise online/classroom courses, visit www.SeniorDriving.AAA.com.
About LongROAD: Recognizing that lifestyle changes, and innovative technologies and medical advancements will have a significant impact on the driving experiences of the baby boomer generation, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety launched a ground-breaking, multi-year research program to more fully understand and meet the safety and mobility needs of older drivers in the United States. The AAA LongROAD (Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers) is one of the largest and most comprehensive studies available on senior drivers with 2,990 participants being followed for five years. It will support in-depth studies of senior driving and mobility to better understand risks and develop effective countermeasures.