Senior Mobility

News & Safety Senior Mobility
Older couple posing for AAA Senior Driving

Helping Seniors Drive Safer & Longer

Even the most experienced drivers can improve their performance behind the wheel. AAA offers a comprehensive suite of research-based tools, programs and educational resources to help older adults improve their safety as drivers, and to assist in making a smooth transition from driver to passenger if needed. is a go-to resource for expert advice needed to keep driving for as long as safely possible and mobile thereafter. Take the time to plan ahead, it’s a leading cause of life.

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Rx for Safe Driving

Mature drivers who are killed in crashes have the lowest intoxication levels of all adult traffic fatalities.

A driver over 65 is likely to take the "never drink and drive" rule to heart. Unfortunately, alcohol is only one drug that impairs drivers. Mature drivers are the most likely to drive while taking multiple medications. Drugs typically affect us differently at age 60 than they did at age 20.

Taking medications doesn't mean you can't drive. It just means there's more planning involved in driving responsibly. Protect your health and safety by following these guidelines.

  • Avoid driving if you're not sure how a drug will affect you.
  • Take medications only at prescribed levels and dosages.
  • Plan driving around dosages or when side effects are less likely.
  • Do not drive when you feel ill, tired or disoriented.
  • Never drink and drive, and never combine medication and alcohol.
  • Consult with your doctor or pharmacist about medications that may impair driving.
  • In case of an emergency, carry with you a list of all medications you are taking, including names and dosages.

This information was extracted from Rx for Safe Driving, one in AAA's Straight Talk for Mature Drivers brochure series. For more information on this topic, please contact your local AAA Pioneer Valley.

Fine-Tune Driving Skills
As you age, sight, hearing, judgment of speed and distance and reflexes diminish.

The aging process also affects strength, flexibility and coordination - abilities we draw on when we drive. These changes may occur so gradually you may not notice the impact on your driving until you are in a crash.

Common Mistakes

The most common factors in crashes involving mature drivers are:

  • Failure to yield right-of-way.
  • Improper left turns.
  • Confusion in heavy traffic.
  • Inattention.
  • Complications while backing up.
  • Hesitation in responding to new traffic signs, signals or pavement markings.

Five Pointers

  1. Move into an intersection only after checking the area for pedestrians, cyclists, hazards and other motor vehicles. Don't allow other drivers to pressure you into sudden moves.
  2. Limit conversation and keep the radio volume low to minimize distractions.
  3. Don't drive when you are tired, depressed or in the grips of a strong emotion, such as anger.
  4. Never drink and drive. As metabolism changes with age, even one drink can make driving unsafe at any speed.
  5. Ensure your windshield is clean and visibility is clear. If you smoke, refrain from lighting up inside the vehicle.

Buying a Vehicle

We can't control aging, but we do have the power to choose a vehicle that meets our needs. Mature drivers should choose a vehicle with options that add to their comfort and control and offset any loss of strength or visibility.

Options include:

  • Power steering.
  • Power, anti-lock brakes.
  • Automatic transmission.
  • Large, well-lit gauges.
  • Automatic climate control.
  • Power-adjustable side mirrors with features to minimize blind spots.
  • Power windows and door locks.
  • Adaptive equipment, such as hand controls.

Also, check these factors:

  • Can you easily adjust the height and tilt of the seat?
  • Is the top of the steering wheel no higher than your shoulders?
  • If not, can you tilt or adjust the steering column adequately?
  • Does the seat belt fit? Many new vehicles have adjustable shoulder belt anchors that can help the belt system fit better.
  • Can you comfortably reach the foot pedals? Are they adjustable?
  • What about the climate controls, radio, door locks and window switches?

For mature drivers, bigger vehicles are easier to get in and out of, thanks to more head room and leg room and the fact that higher seats don't force you to stoop or crouch to slip behind the wheel.

The only way you can determine if a vehicle is right is to try it out. As you get in and out of the vehicle, notice if you have to bend awkwardly or step up too high.

AAA Can Help
Your AAA club may help you find the right vehicle at the right price. Some clubs offer member car-buying programs. Other AAA clubs participate in used-vehicle purchase programs in cooperation with experts in the field. The sales are member-only events that offer late-model, pre-owned vehicles with on-the-spot financing.

To learn more about car-buying services, please contact your local AAA club.

This information was extracted from Buying a Vehicle, one in AAA's Straight Talk for Mature Drivers brochure series. For more information on this topic, please contact your local AAA Pioneer Valley office.

Time to Stop 
No one wants to give up the freedom and convenience of driving.

Older Americans prefer private vehicles over all other forms of transportation. Drivers 65 and older take more than 80 percent of trips in their own vehicles.

Aging can cause a decline in the ability to:

  • Judge speed of oncoming vehicles.
  • Notice objects at the outer edges of your field of vision.
  • Shift focus to different objects that may appear such as signs or pedestrians.
  • Perceive detail and differences in color and contrast.
  • Accurately judge distances.

If you are unsure of your performance, ask a trusted friend or family member to monitor your driving. The decision to stop driving is a tough one, but most of us want to make a responsible choice that protects ourselves and others.

Assess your status as a driver
In the past few months, have you:

  • Suffered a stroke, heart attack or diminished eyesight?
  • Experienced difficulty negotiating sharp turns and intersections?
  • Hesitated over right-of-way decisions or situations you once took for granted?
  • Been surprised by the sudden presence of other vehicles or pedestrians?
  • Received negative feedback from other drivers?
  • Become lost on familiar routes?
  • Felt nervous or exhausted after driving?
  • Been cited for traffic violations or found at fault in crashes?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it may be time to consider moving from the driver's seat to the passenger seat. This information was extracted from Good Vision ... Vital to Good Driving, one in AAA's Straight Talk for Mature Drivers brochure series. For more information on this topic, please contact your local AAA Pioneer Valley office.

Key Facts
Some key statistics on senior mobility and safety:

  • People over 65 are the fastest-growing population in the United States.
  • By 2020, there will be more than 40 million licensed drivers ages 65 and older.
  • Senior crash fatality rates have climbed while overall fatality rates for all ages combined have remained stable since 1991.
  • Although they are more likely to wear their seat-belts, less likely to drink and drive and less likely to speed, senior drivers are more likely to be hurt in a car crash.
  • Seniors have the highest crash death rate per mile of everyone except teenagers.
  • Senior drivers are over-represented in intersection crashes, and senior pedestrians are up to five times more likely to die in these crashes than any other age group.
  • Currently there are more than 25 million people age 70 and older in the United States.
  • By 2030, one in five people in the U.S. will be at least 65 years old.
  • There were 18.9 million older licensed drivers in 2000 - a 36 percent increase from 1990.
  • Older drivers made up 10 percent of all licensed drivers in 2000, compared with 8 percent in 1989.
  • In 2001, 159,000 seniors were injured in traffic crashes, accounting for 5 percent of all the people injured in traffic crashes during the year.
  • Seniors made up 13 percent of all traffic fatalities, 12 percent of all vehicle occupant fatalities, and 18 percent of all pedestrian fatalities.
  • Most traffic fatalities involving older drivers in 2001 occurred during the daytime (82 percent), on weekdays (71 percent), and involved another vehicle (73 percent).

Lifelong Safe Mobility

Although the prevalence of driving difficulties increases with age, not all senior drivers are at risk. Visual, cognitive and physical problems can occur at any age and complicate the task of driving. Similarly, old age alone does not necessarily indicate the presence of any of the characteristic "older driver" problems (Transportation Research Board, 1988).

 gtSenior-friendly road designs such as intersection improvements, better signage, lighting and road markings have the potential to greatly reduce death and injury to our aging population and will also ultimately protect people of all ages. In addition, driver assessments and driving improvement programs can help seniors monitor and maintain their driving abilities, thereby reducing risk of death or injury. It is important to keep seniors driving as long as safely possible.

Senior Mobility FAQs
What is AAA's ultimate goal with its "Lifelong Safe Mobility" campaign? 

AAA is dedicated to keeping senior road users driving as long as safely possible. When it is not possible for seniors to drive, AAA is committed to ensuring that viable transportation alternatives are readily available.

Why is senior mobility a priority issue for AAA?
Our society is going to face new challenges as baby boomers become seniors. In fact, Americans over the age of 65 are the fastest-growing population. By 2020, there will be more than 40 million licensed drivers 65 and older. AAA has been instrumental in supporting issues related to safe and efficient travel and will continue to work to ensure that all members of our society are afforded safe modes of transportation.

Why are senior drivers at risk?
As we age, our bodies and minds go through several changes. Vision and hearing tend to diminish and muscles and bones become weaker. Also, ability to react and focus attention on multiple tasks may diminish. All attributes and abilities of the mind and body are integral for operating a vehicle safely.

Under what circumstances are seniors more likely to be involved in a crash?
Since 1991, although overall fatality rates have remained stable, senior crash rates have increased. Research indicates seniors are involved in different types of crashes than the rest of the population. Specifically, seniors are over-represented in intersection crashes and may have difficulty making left turns. Other situations that may be particularly frustrating for senior drivers are driving during heavy traffic and at night.

In what ways do seniors have more difficulty than other drivers?
Seniors tend to have difficulty making left - hand turns, judging distance, seeing during night driving, driving during conditions that require quick reaction times and handling tasks that require divided attention.

Whose lives are affected by senior mobility?
Mobility for the senior members of our communities affects everyone. The crashes that involve seniors put all members of society at risk. This transportation issue is also a public health issue. For example, when a senior lacks transportation for a doctor visit, family members and others in the community bear the burden of their loved one's poor health. We have a responsibility to keep our aging population safe - a responsibility that will ultimately help all of us as we age.What are some possible ways that driving may be made safer for senior drivers? By making changes in road and vehicle designs, driving may be made safer for senior drivers. For example, larger and more legible signs may compensate for decreased vision, as does well-marked and well-lighted crosswalks. Left-turn-only lanes at intersections can help seniors maneuver in an otherwise difficult situation. Vehicle instrument panels can be redesigned so they're easier to read. Modifications may be able to be made to allow getting in and out of a car easier. These are just a few improvements that can help all drivers.

What are some ways to determine whether it is safe for a senior to drive?
If a senior has experienced several near misses, has been involved in several crashes or fender-benders, or if other road users often honk their horns at the driver, it may be an indication he or she is not operating a vehicle safely. Other ways to assess driving ability are to see an occupational therapist certified as a driver rehabilitation specialist or use a self-assessment tool such as the quiz available on the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety's Web site. AAA also is exploring new tools to help seniors and their loved ones maintain their driving skills longer.

The American Medical Association's Physician's Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers provides further information on assessing senior drivers.

Are there professionals available who can help seniors overcome diminished abilities that often accompany aging?
A driver rehabilitation specialist can offer techniques to overcome changes in the ability to maneuver a car. AAA Pioneer Valley offers a Driver Improvement course.

Whom should a senior contact if he or she has questions about driving abilities?
The decision will often involve many people. It may be necessary to discuss the issue with the spouse, family and doctor to determine when it is time to find other modes of transportation. The doctor may also refer the case to the state's Medical Advisory Board to determine under what conditions it is safe to drive, or whether it is safe to drive at all.

Mature Drivers
Crowded highways ... impatient drivers ... road construction. There are times when driving is difficult for everyone.

But for older drivers, the road presents special challenges. Physical effects of aging can rob mature drivers of some of the skills needed to help them drive comfortably - and safely.

Effects of aging vary from person to person. But few older drivers have reflexes as sharp as those of a 25-year-old. Frequently mentioned descriptions of problems with older drivers include:

  • Maintaining proper speed or slowing unexpectedly.
  • Failing to check mirrors and other lanes.
  • Demonstrating uncertainty in unfamiliar areas.
  • Inability to make decisions and react as quickly as other drivers.
  • Having energy and physical freedom to cope with and resolve conflicts.
  • Recognizing new traffic signs, signals and road markings and adjusting to different traffic patterns and roadway designs.

But older drivers have one great advantage: experience. The longer you drive, the more you learn about what to do - and what not to do - on the road. What you lack in quick reflexes, you can make up in sound judgment.

The following are suggestions that can help mature motorists drive more safely and with increased confidence:

  • Physical problems that interfere with driving ability should be reported to your doctor. Hearing aids and eye glasses can help compensate for hearing loss or weakened vision.
  • A regular exercise program is one way to tune up your body and improve overall physical - and mental - fitness.
  • Carefully selecting driving routes also can improve performances on the highway. Older drivers should choose routes that provide ample lighting, well-marked streets, easy-to-read road signs and easy-to-reach parking places. Also look for roads less traveled - where traffic is light during off-peak hours.