According to a new report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, older Americans are extending their time behind the wheel compared to previous generations. For example, 84 percent of Americans 65 and older held a driver’s license in 2010 compared to barely half in the early 1970s. Today, one in six drivers on U.S. roads are ages 65 and older and this new research shows an increased “auto-mobility” of older drivers. Current travel patterns indicate this group has experienced about a 20 percent increase in trips and a 33 percent increase in miles traveled between 1990 and 2009.
Yet, older drivers continue to be among the safer drivers on the road. According to California DMV data analyzed by the Auto Club, drivers over age 65 have a crash rate per licensed driver (for crashes of all types) about 35% lower than that of all drivers. When adjusted for miles driven, the crash rate for those under age 75 remains below that of the general population.
While upward trends indicate greater mobility for the silver tsunami, the new AAA report, entitled Understanding Older Drivers: An Examination of Medical Conditions, Medication Use and Travel Behaviors reveals that 90 percent of older drivers also use prescription medications with two-thirds taking multiple medications. Previous Foundation research has shown that combinations of medications, both prescription and over- the-counter, can result in an impairment in safe driving ability.
“This level of medication use does raise concerns, yet evidence indicates seniors are fairly cautious,” said AAA Foundation President and CEO Peter Kissinger. “In fact, these findings show that older drivers using medications are more likely to regulate their driving – reducing daily travel, avoiding driving at night or driving fewer days per week.”
The report also reveals gender differences when it comes to medication-use behind the wheel. Older women that use medications are more likely to regulate their driving compared to men and, even without a medical condition, female drivers drive less than their male counterparts with a medical condition.
Additional key highlights from the report include:
· 25 percent of men and 18 percent of women remain in the workforce after age 65, resulting in more than double the work-related commutes for drivers 65 and older compared to 20 years ago.
- 68 percent drivers age 85 or older report driving five or more days per week.
- Three-quarters of drivers ages 65 and older with a medical condition report reduced daily driving.
- Self-regulatory behavior, among those taking multiple medications or having a medical condition, declines with increasing income. Female drivers ages 65-69 with an annual income under $13,000 were 62 percent more likely to restrict nighttime driving than women with incomes over $70,000.
Knowing that medication use is very high among senior drivers, the AAA Foundation and AAA developed confidential, educational tools such as Roadwise Rx to help seniors and their families understand common side-effects of prescription and over-the-counter medications, herbal supplements and foods.
“AAA’s Roadwise Rx is an online tool that generates personalized feedback about how these interactions among prescription and over-the-counter medicines and herbal supplements can impact safety behind the wheel,” said the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Manager of Community Programs and Traffic Safety Anita Lorz Villagrana. “Drivers are encouraged to discuss the confidential results with their doctor or pharmacist to learn how to mitigate possible crash risks.
“Our research shows that nearly one-in-three Americans don’t know where to turn for information and help regarding senior driver issues,” added Lorz Villagrana. “AAA offers researched-based tools and programs to help older drivers assess and improve their driving skills, reduce driving risks and better understand how mind and body changes and medications can impact driving abilities.” To access all the free resources AAA offers to senior drivers, visit SeniorDriving.AAA.com.
The AAA Foundation study primarily analyzed the most recent data from two national databases - the 2009 National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) and the 2011 National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS).