Older Driver Safety Awareness Week highlights options for aging drivers

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Older Driver Safety Awareness Week is an important week to highlight the role of transportation and mobility in keeping older adults active in their communities.

One of the toughest decisions we’ll have to make is deciding when to move out of the driver’s seat and into the passenger’s seat. That’s why the American Occupational Therapy Association created Older Driver Safety Awareness Week, to help us, as we age, make the right choices.

“It was both the need to try to help people find the right sources at the right time. And also to be able to access these tools that have been developed and were for their benefit,” said AOTA’s Elin Davis.

“As people age, we do experience changes; we experienced changes in vision, cognition, and physical ability. And most seniors are absolutely aware of this. They notice it in how they choose to store things in their house, reach for things walk outside carefully. I mean, seniors are experts at change,” Davis continued. “And so if our vision, cognitive ability, or physical ability changes, that may affect our ability to be able to control a vehicle safely. So recognizing changes is really important. So we can be kind of in charge of planning for what we’re going to do to accommodate for our changes and get around as safely as we can, whether it’s driving, or whether sometimes it’s taking the passenger seat.”

The CDC reports there are 44 million licensed drivers over the age of 65 in the United States. In one year, more than 7,700 drivers 65 and older died in car crashes. More than 257,000 were injured enough for a trip to the ER. AOTA created Older Driver Safety Awareness Week to make sure aging drivers know all of their available options.

“We need to start having these conversations early. We need to have them before we need them,” Davis explained. “So what’s important is that we start thinking of accepting or understanding that these changes may put my driving at risk, and our family members have our backs. We want to rally around mom and dad and say we want to do everything we can to help you be able to stay mobile to be able to maintain being a driver as long as you can. And we will support you in your decisions to maybe not be driving all the time, or not at all.”

The American Occupational Therapy Association intentionally put Older Driver Safety Awareness Week in December because it’s a time when many families get together and can start having these conversations.

“Absolutely there are some people that need to not be driving but the resources of how to prepare our transportation plan, be thinking about staying mobile as we age, is very broad,” said Davis. “We have options. I might drive to the hairdresser at noon, but my daughter might pick me up to go to the opera in the evening. Because that way, we can have different choices to stay mobile and engaged. But still, to make a safer choices as we can.

“For many of us, the idea of having more choices is not familiar, it’s not something we’re used to. And part of Older Driver Safety Awareness Week is saying, start building those options earlier, way before you need them. So that you have choices as long as you can so that you are not car-dependent. The car doesn’t have the power; you have the power.”

The American Occupational Therapy Association has put together a list of resources to help older drivers, and their families, through these tough conversations and planning here.

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