Older drivers with a history of falling are 40 percent more likely to be involved in crashes than their peers, according to a new study released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Falls limit an older drivers’ ability to function behind the wheel and can make driving risky for themselves and others on the road. These findings are important since annually a record 12 million older adults will experience a fall.
“Drivers age 60 and older are involved in more than 400,000 crashes each year, and it’s important that we find ways to keep them and others safe on the road,” said Peter Kissinger, President and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “This research is critical because it shows that we can now use an older driver’s fall history to identify if they are at greater risk for a crash.”
The report, Associations Between Falls and Driving Outcomes in Older Adults, is the latest research released in the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers (LongROAD) project. Researchers from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus along with the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety say that falls can increase crash risk in two ways:
- Falls can result in a loss of functional ability (i.e. wrist fractures or a broken leg), which can make it difficult for older drivers to steer or brake to avoid a crash.
- Falls can increase an individual’s fear of falling, which can lead to a decrease in physical activity that weakens driving skills.
Use It or Lose It
“Falls often scare people into being less active, but decreasing physical activity can weaken muscles and coordination and make someone more likely to be in a crash,” according the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Community Programs and Traffic Safety Manager Anita Lorz Villagrana. “As a leading advocate for senior driver safety, AAA offers a variety of programs and resources to help older drivers assess and improve their driving performance and to help avoid crashes.”
The research suggests that seniors and their families should view falls as a possible early indicator of declining physical fitness. Addressing the health issues that originally led to the fall such as lower body weakness, poor balance, slow reaction time, certain medications, dizziness, or vision problems, can help older drivers strengthen their functional ability and lower their risk for crashing or experiencing another fall in the future. AAA’s www.roadwiserx.com can help with information about medications and how they may affect driving.
“Older drivers should find activities that enhance balance, strengthen muscles and promote flexibility,” continued Lorz Villagrana. “Even a low impact fitness training program or driver improvement course can help safely extend an older driver’s years on the road.”
Fall prevention is a great way for older drivers to keep themselves and others safe while on the road. Those concerned about a parent or other older driver should help them monitor risk factors that address health concerns or household dangers. AAA recommends a series of exercises and stretches to improve neck, shoulder, trunk, back and overall body flexibility, which can help a driver who has suffered from a recent fall.
For more information on AAA resources for older drivers, such as RoadWise online/classroom courses or other programs that help seniors better “fit” with their vehicles, visit www.SeniorDriving.AAA.com. In Southern California, CarFit events will be held:
- April 14 at La Fetra Senior Center, 116 Foothill Blvd., Glendora 91741. Reservations: 626-914-0560
- April 22 at Sherman Oaks Senior Center, 5056 Van Nuys Blvd. 91403 Reservations and more information: 818-376-4246.
- April 29 at Barbara J. Riley Community & Senior Center, Rancho Los Amigos, 7850 Quill Drive, Downey 90242 Reservations and more information: 562-401-7464.
- May 14 at Loma Verde Recreation Center, 1420 Loma Lane, Chula Vista 91911 Reservations and more information: 619-641-7020.
- May 20 at Cerritos Senior Center, 12340 South St., Cerritos 90701 Reservations and more information: 562-916-8550.
- June 27 at Fountain Valley Senior Center, 17967 Buchard St., Fountain Valley 92708 Reservations and more information: 714-593-4447 ext. 478.
The LongROAD Study
Recognizing that lifestyle changes, along with innovative technologies and medical advancements, will have a significant impact on baby boomers’ driving experiences, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has launched a multi-year research program to more fully understand the driving patterns and trends of older drivers in the United States. The LongROAD (Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers) Study is designed to generate the largest and most comprehensive data base about senior drivers in existence and will support in-depth studies of senior driving and mobility to better understand risks and develop effective countermeasures.
Established by AAA in 1947, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, publicly-supported charitable educational and research organization. Dedicated to saving lives and reducing injuries on our roads, the Foundation’s mission is to prevent crashes and save lives through research and education about traffic safety. The Foundation has funded over 300 research projects designed to discover the causes of traffic crashes, prevent them and minimize injuries when they do occur. Visit www.AAAFoundation.org for more information on this and other research.