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More senior citizens taking to the open road

In spite of their advanced ages, many older people want to remain independent, particularly when it comes to operating their own cars. An estimated 90 percent of their trips take place in private vehicles. While some are passengers, many choose to drive themselves.

Retaining the ability to drive has countless benefits for the older population. It allows them to get out of the house, become more active in their communities, and maintain the hands-on experience necessary to continue their independent travel.

With the population living longer, older people account for a high number of drivers, a number that continues to grow. Licensed drivers 65 and older increased 61 percent in 1980. By 2003, one in seven were in that age range. Forecasts of the remaining boomers turning 65 could grow to one in four.

Not as dangerous as younger drivers think

While many drivers perceive that seniors behind the wheel are the proverbial “accident waiting to happen,” the opposite is true. Per licensed driver, those 65 and older are safer and have lower rates of crashes and collisions that involve injury than their younger counterparts. Out of all age groups, they also enjoy the lowest percentage of alcohol-related accidents and the highest use of seatbelts.

However, as they reach their seventies, fatal crashes increase due to the physical fragility of both drivers and passengers who tend to be in the same age range. Drivers in this demographic also do not drive as often. Yet, when accounting for crashes per mile that they travel, the incidence of crashes significantly increases.

While they still may retain the skills to drive, other physical and cognitive conditions can create dangers. Poor vision affects the ability to read signs and road markings, particularly in the evening. Not being able to hear approaching cars blaring their horns or ambulance sirens presents serious risks. Adding the possibility of slower reaction times can result in catastrophe.

Eventually, the decision to take the keys away from an elderly loved one has to be made. It will likely be met with some resistance. However, knowing that they are safe is worth a little rancor in a situation that they will hopefully come to accept.

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