Sunday, January 15, 2006

driving and old age

As a group elderly drivers have fewer accidents on a per-drive basis, according to a 1982 National Public Safety Research Institute Report. However, annual mileage traveled by elderly drivers is much less than other drivers. On a per-mile basis, elderly drivers have a higher accident rate than other drivers.
Older drivers tend to be responsible for the accidents in which they are involved. The likelihood of an older individual being injured or killed in an accident is greater. These accidents usually occur on clear days, on straight, dry pavements, and at intersections within 15 miles of the driver's home. Driving in the United States is considered to be a person's right. It is the only mode of transportation available in many areas. It maintains a sense of independence allowing people to continue to meet their daily needs and overcome a sense of isolation. Aging has a definite effect on driving ability. Changes first begin to occur in basic sensory and cognitive functions. These changes are so gradual older adults are unaware of them. These age-related problems can significantly affect an individual's driving performance.
Government studies have found a link between poor vision and poor driving that increases among drivers 50 years and over. More than 95 percent of all information processed by drivers is through one's eyesight. Day and night, the amount of illumination that reaches the retina at the age of 60 is only one-third of that of a 20-year-old. Declining physical ability, the mental state of the driver, and the use of medications affect the elderly. One out of every five people over the age of 55 has impaired hearing, and one out of three over the age of 65. Hearing loss particularly affects older men's ability to hear high-pitched sounds. Several states use mandatory retesting of senior citizen when their licenses expire. According to the Federal Highway Administration the number of states with these requirements has declined from 11 states and the District of Columbia in 1977 to three states and the District of Columbia in 1984. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has opposed mandatory retesting. They began a driver education program called "55 Alive." The program is offered in all 50 states. To date 220,000 people have taken "55 Alive." The eight-hour course emphasizes defensive driving skills. Seniors are encouraged to have regular eye examinations. Depth perception and other problems are treated by emphasizing positive steps to correct the situation. A refresher course over the state driver manual to update knowledge of the rules of the road may be offered.
"55 Alive" is being recognized as an effective driving course for senior citizens. Recent studies have shown a trend toward accident and violation reductions among graduates. Some states and insurance companies are offering economic incentives for people to sign up.
As the population ages, more programs will be needed to help senior citizens learn new skills to compensate for the aging process.
Thiemes, J. "Old Age and Driving Don't Always Mix," in Aging, Goldstein, E. C., ed. Vol. 2, Art. 91. Boca Raton, FI.: Social Issues Resource Series, Inc., 1981.

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