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Growing number of senior drivers presents challenges

June 28, 2012

As the number of seniors grows over the coming years, many people have looked at how an aging population affects everything from the workplace to healthcare. However, fewer studies have been done on what it means for the roads. The number of drivers in the United States over 70 will triple by 2020, and that presents some unique challenges.

Nobody will be more affected by the aging driving population than seniors themselves. Many older adults place an emphasis on maintaining their independence and see driving as an important part of healthy aging. However, as seniors get older their families may become more concerned with their driving ability, something which could lead to some difficult conversations.

"A lot of people equate their self-worth with being able to drive," Connie Shaffer, an occupational therapist and driver-rehab specialist, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "You know, 'If I can't drive, I might as well die because life is over.' You're talking about taking that away when it's all that people know."

Despite not wanting to give up the keys, some concerns of young relatives may be valid. A recent study found that seniors may rate their driving ability higher than it actually is. A report from the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that while 85 percent of seniors rated their driving as good or excellent, 25 percent of them had a crash in the last five years.

Though it may present challenges, there are ways for seniors to maintain their independence behind the wheel - all it takes are a few slight tweaks to when and where they drive. In fact, a AAA survey revealed that many senior drivers are already taking steps to stay safe behind the wheel. For example, 50 percent avoid driving at night while 42 percent stay away from heavy traffic.