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Seniors Will Comprise 1 in 5 Drivers By 2030

By Natalie Josef, November 10, 2010

My late grandpa, whom I loved dearly, had lots of wonderful qualities—humor, intelligence, forethought, compassion—but being a good driver was not one of them. I remember riding in his car, white-knuckled, shooting worrying glances at my mother as we narrowly avoided perilous accidents and helpless pedestrians. My mom used to offer to drive, but he always refused, stubbornness being another one of his qualities.

Even when I was young, I had a feeling he really shouldn’t be behind the wheel. When I got older and started diving myself, I knew he shouldn’t be behind the wheel. The issue of seniors driving is an important one, one that is going to get even more attention as the Baby Boomers hit their golden years.

In the next twenty years, the number of licensed drivers over the age of 65 will nearly double—from 30 million today to 57 million in 2030. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in itself. Crashes involving seniors have been declining and there’s not much evidence that senior drivers are any less safer than younger drivers, but one thing to consider is that older drivers are more likely to have medical conditions that can affect their driving.

A forty-year-old needs 20 times more light to see at night than a twenty-year-old and, as we age, we are less able to judge speed and distance. Our reflexes get slower and even our necks become less flexible, making it harder to turn to the side or look behind ourselves. We also get frailer and are less likely to survive car accidents the older we get.

So, with all these Baby Boomers on the roads, should we be worried? Not really. There are some new technologies, some borrowed from the military and the aviation industry, that will help us stay behind the wheel longer. Crash warning systems can alert drivers to impending accidents and can even override the driver and apply the brake, if necessary. There are also night vision systems that can help with vision problems and just making dials larger or installing an extended mirror can really make a difference.

Additionally, AAA offers seniors driving seminars, classes, and behind-the-wheel evaluations, where seniors are picked up and then taken on roads in their area, where their driving skills are evaluated and suggestions are made for improvement.

But even if technologies improve, better roads are built, and seniors are more aware, there still comes a time when driving simply isn’t safe anymore, and that’s what we need to start thinking about. I see seniors on the bus all the time in San Francisco, but that’s not really an option in the suburbs, where just getting to the bus stop might be a challenge. We also have to address the issue of independence, which is a tough one. I know I don’t want to have to rely on anyone else when I get older and I know others feel the same.

There are lots of things we need to figure out as the Baby Boomers hit their golden years, but keeping the roads safe for all drivers is one we can’t afford to ignore.

 

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