TOWSON, Md. (WJZ) — In 2017, 59 senior Maryland drivers were killed, an increase of 69 percent from the 35 killed in 2013.

In Maryland, nearly 3,400 drivers aged 65 years and older were injured in crashes in 2017 — a 31 percent increase from 2013, according to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration’s Highway Safety Office.

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According to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, nearly 83 percent of older drivers report never speaking to a family member or physician about their driving safety. For those who do have the conversation, roughly 15 percent, they have it after a crash or traffic infraction occurs.

The AAA states that older drivers are at greater risk of death or injury if involved in a crash, due to their fragility.

Many seniors are outliving their driving ability by an average of seven to 10 years but having more family conversations about safety is a necessary precaution to lower their risk of injury or death.

AAA urges seniors to prepare for “driving retirement” around the same time they begin planning for work retirement.

“The right time to stop driving varies for everyone,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation of Traffic Safety. “This research shows that older drivers can be hesitant to initiate conversations about their driving capabilities, so it is important that families encourage them to talk early and often about their future behind the wheel. With early discussion and proper planning, elderly drivers may extend their time on the road.”

According to a report on research released in the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers project, 17 percent of older drivers report ever speaking with a family member or physician about driving safety. The most common reasons include:

  • Driving safety concerns (falling asleep while driving, trouble staying in lane): 65 percent
  • Health issues: 22 percent
  • Driving infraction or crash: 15 percent
  • Planning for the future: 7 percent

AAA Mid-Atlantic recommends that families start talking with older drivers about safety early-on and avoid waiting until there are “red flags” such as crashes or damages on the car, new medical diagnoses, or worsening health conditions. They should begin these conversations when older drivers begin planning for retirement from work or moving to a new home. Here are some tips on how to have that discussion:

  • Start early and talk often: Be positive, be supportive and focus on ways to help keep them safe when behind the wheel, including other forms of transportation available to older drivers.
  • Avoid generalizations: Do not jump to conclusions about an older driver’s skills or abilities.
  • Speak one-on-one: Keep the discussion between you and the older driver. Inviting the whole family to the conversation can create feelings of alienation or anger.
  • Focus on the facts: Stick to information you know, like a medical condition or medication regimen that might make driving unsafe. Do not accuse an older driver of being unsafe or assume that driving should be stopped altogether.
  • Plan Together: Allow the older driver to play an active role in developing the plan for their driving retirement.

Reasearch from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that older adults who have stopped driver are almost two times more likely to suffer from depression and nearly five times as likely to enter a long-term care facility as those who remain behind the wheel.

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Families can use the AAA Driver Planning Agreement as a guide to starting conversations about safety.

AAA offers a variety of resources for older drivers:

RoadWise Driver course – an online senior-focused program that addresses natural age-based changes and adjusting habits to reduce risk. The program identifies the top five causes of senior collisions and provides useful tips, proven methods, and practical knowledge for seniors to use while driving.

Driver Skills Assessment – a behind-the-wheel evaluation of ones abilities which identifies strengths/weaknesses and concerns observed during a routine drive and provides recommendations and feedback on areas for improvement.

AAA’s Senior Driving website – a site dedicated to helping seniors improve their driving performance using tools and resources for individual drivers and their families.

RoadWise Rx – a tool to help you understand how medications may affect you and your driving.

CarFit – developed by the American Society on Aging in collaboration with AAA, AARP and the American Occupational Therapy Association, CarFit is a community-based program that provides a quick, yet comprehensive 12-point check of how well you and your car work together.

This article is authored by Emma Tucker.

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