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Training can help keep senior drivers safe

April 30, 2013

For many seniors, the ability to stay behind the wheel is critical to maintaining their independence. However, older adults are often saddled with the stereotype of being unsafe drivers. Now, new research suggests the elderly may be able to retain information from training classes better than most people think, according to findings published in the journal Human Factors.

The study focused on a group of healthy seniors between 70 and 89 years old who underwent training using a simulator and received video reviews on their driving habits. Researchers waited two years and then followed up with their subjects to see how much of their training they remembered, and as it turns out, it was a lot. Perhaps most notably, older drivers performed so-called secondary looks - meant to check for oncoming vehicles - 73 percent of the time, which was a considerable increase compared to their time before their classes.

"Training in the form of actively practicing target skills in a simulator provides drivers a means by which to reincorporate previously extinguished behaviors into their driving habits," said researcher Matthew R. E. Romoser.

Such programs may soon become a staple of senior living, especially as the number of older adults on the road continues to grow. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were an estimated 33 million licensed drivers over the age of 65 in 2009, and many of them are safer behind the wheel than their younger counterparts. 

A 2012 report released by AAA found that drivers in their 80s have a crash rate considerably lower than those in their teens and 20s. Plus, with new technology such as push-start ignition and grip steering wheels to help motorists with arthritis, driving later in life has become increasingly easy.