Older Americans today are healthier and more active than ever before. The baby boomer generation is the fastest growing demographic in the U.S. By 2030, there will be more than 70 million people age 65 and older, with 80-95 percent of them licensed to drive. In New Jersey, the number of people 65 and older is estimated at over 1.2 million, according to NJ Census Data.
Sadly, seniors are outliving their safe driving years by an average of seven to 10 years, and must now start planning for their “driving retirement,” much the same as they plan for their financial retirement.
When planning for retirement, most people think about housing, health care, financial security and other needs. But many neglect to plan for transportation. Whether it’s for a family member or yourself, AAA recommends taking the same careful approach to finances should be taken with transportation. Planning for regular medical check-ups and driving assessments, choosing a safer car and identifying alternate methods of transportation should happen well before skills diminish.
Traffic safety is vital for drivers of all ages, but older drivers experience physical changes that can affect driving ability including changes in vision, reaction time and flexibility. However, these skills deteriorate slowly over time, which is why it’s important for drivers and family members of older drivers to regularly check their driving skills.
Senior drivers are generally smart drivers. Seniors kill fewer motorists and pedestrians than drivers of any other age group and have the lowest crash involvement rates per licensed driver. They know their limitations, so they drive less, less at night and less in inclement weather.
Unfortunately older drivers become more crash-prone with age, even though they may drive less. With the exception of teenagers, older Americans have the highest crash death rate per mile driven, not because of a lack of skill but because older drivers are more fragile and their fatality rates are 17 times higher than those of 25-64 year olds.
When it comes time to “retire” from driving, a successful transition can be made by families working together. One of the first steps in addressing older driver safety is having a non-threatening conversation with loved ones. Friends and family play a major role in discussions about older driver safety, and it’s better to start the conversation early, allowing time for planning and exploration of options long before any crisis or incident.
AAA offers suggestions and tips for having that conversation on AAA’s Senior Driving website – a site dedicated to helping seniors improve their driving performance by using tools and resources for individual drivers and their families.
Tracy E. Noble
Manager, Public and Government Affairs – New Jersey