90 Percent of Senior Drivers Don’t Make Simple Adjustments That Could Reduce Crash Risk 

Hamilton, NJ – Older drivers could make minor changes to their vehicles that would reduce their crash risk - but most of them don't.  That's the finding of a new report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety that looks at the impact of aging on driving.

According to the AAA research, nearly 90 percent of older drivers do not make inexpensive adaptations to their vehicles even though doing so would be a simple safety improvement and extend their time behind the wheel.

“These adaptations include such minor things as seat cushions, steering wheel covers and pedal extensions – all low cost measures to improve safety,” said Tracy E.  Noble, spokesperson for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “AAA is urging older drivers to consider making minor adjustments to their vehicles that could make a major difference in terms of reducing the risk for a crash and extending the time they can continue to drive.”

Senior Driver Statistics

  • In 2016, New Jersey's average senior driver (age 65 and older) crash rate was 15.9 percent, higher than the national average of 13.1 percent.
    • New York - 16.1 percent
    • Pennsylvania - 16.1 percent
    • Delaware - 12.4 percent
    • Maryland - 12.7 percent
  • Drivers older than 65 are 17 times more likely than younger ones to be injured or killed when involved in a crash.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 2016 Fatal Motor Vehicle Crash Overview shows that between 2007 and 2016 the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes age 65 and older increased almost 20 percent, the ONLY age group to do so.
  • By 2030, one in five U.S. adults will be 65 or older.

The research brief, In-Vehicle Technologies, Vehicle Adaptations, and Older Drivers: Use, Learning, and Perceptions is the first phase in the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s groundbreaking Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers (LongROAD) project. Researchers are currently engaged in generating the largest and most comprehensive senior driver database in existence. This critical information will support in-depth research to better understand the risks and transportation needs of our aging population.

“While many seniors are considered to be safe drivers, they are also the most vulnerable,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Our research suggests that most senior drivers are not taking advantage of simple and inexpensive features that can greatly improve their safety and the safety of others on the road.”

In the LongROAD study, more than 70 percent of senior drivers had experienced health conditions that impact muscles and bones such as arthritis, hip/knee replacement and joint pains. Some seniors in the study reduced their driving due to these conditions. The installation of certain devices like steering wheel covers can help lessen the impact of arthritis while larger mirrors and assistive devices on seats can help with limited neck mobility.

For this phase of the study, researchers investigated 12 vehicle adaptations and found that fewer than nine percent of senior drivers reported using any of the devices in their vehicles. Some of the inexpensive devices that can be purchased and put to use in new or existing vehicles are:

Vehicle Device

Potential Safety Impact

Cushions and seat pads

Improves line of sight and can help alleviate back or hip pain

Convex/ multifaceted mirrors

Improves visibility and minimizes blind spots

Pedal extension

Helps drivers obtain a safe distance from the steering wheel/airbag and optimize visibility

Steering wheel covers

Improves grip for drivers with arthritic hand joints

Hand controls

Allows the driver to perform all vehicle maneuvers and functions without the use of lower extremities

Of those drivers who have a device, almost 90 percent reported that they did not work with a trained professional to install the modification, a key recommendation by both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). AAA urges drivers to consult with a trained technician to guide them in making adjustments to their vehicle.

“When an ache or pain begins hindering driving ability, many older drivers are able to continue driving safely after making a few adjustments,” says Elin Schold Davis, project coordinator of the American Occupational Therapy Association’s Older Driver Initiative. “Occupational therapy practitioners trained in driving rehabilitation are especially valuable in connecting the dots between medical challenges that can affect driving and the appropriate equipment and adaptations needed to remain safely independent in the vehicle.”

Vehicle adaptations also benefit seniors’ mental health by extending their time on the road.  Previous research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that seniors who have stopped driving are almost twice as likely to suffer from depression and nearly five times more likely to enter a long-term care facility than those who remain behind the wheel.

AAA is promoting the report in partnership with the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) to support Older Driver Safety Awareness Week. AAA and AOTA worked in collaboration with the American Society on Aging and AARP to develop CarFit to help senior drivers better utilize the features and technologies in their vehicles. The community-based program allows trained professionals to conduct a quick, yet comprehensive 12-point check of a senior’s personal vehicle and make recommendations for needed adjustments or adaptations. Older drivers can sign up for an event online. AAA also offers the Smart Features for Older Drivers tool, which can help senior drivers identify in-expensive devices and vehicle features that optimize their comfort and safety.