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Most older drivers outlive the age at which they can drive safely

LOS ANGELES, CA – The afternoon commute on Highway 101. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Older drivers outlive the age when they’re capable of driving safely by seven to 10 years, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety said Tuesday, but more than 80 percent of them never talk with their family or doctor about it.

When they do have that conversation about driving safety, the AAA found that in 15 percent of cases it came after a crash or traffic infraction.

The AAA Foundation said that in 2016, more than 200,000 drivers over the age of 65 were injured in crashes and more than 3,500 of them died.

“The right time to stop driving varies for everyone,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation of Traffic Safety. “This research shows that older drivers can be hesitant to initiate conversations about their driving capabilities, so it is important that families encourage them to talk early and often about their future behind the wheel. With early discussion and proper planning, elderly drivers may extend their time on the road.”

AAA found that only 17 percent of older drivers discuss driving issues with their doctor or family. When they do, the most common reasons are such things as falling asleep at the wheel or trouble keeping in a traffic lane.

“Because driving is closely tied to freedom and independence, it is hard for some adult children to talk to, or have a ‘deep conversation’ with their parents about driving safety,” said John B. Townsend II, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Despite your best efforts to appropriately handle a conversation about driving, some older adults will respond with anger, denial or embarrassment.”

Townsend advises avoiding unloving words or attitudes.

“Do not offend or lecture,” he said. “Instead of saying ‘We need to talk,’ strive to be gentle, genteel, sincere, courteous and empathetic when initiating the conversation. Do not lecture or demand that an older driver give up the keys.”

Earlier research by AAA  found that older drivers who have stopped driving are almost twice as likely to suffer from depression and nearly five times as likely to enter a long-term care facility as those who remain behind the wheel.

“The best time to initiate a discussion with a loved one about staying mobile without a set of car keys is before you suspect there is a problem,” said Jake Nelson, AAA director of traffic safety advocacy and research. “Planning for personal mobility and independence should be done working shoulder to shoulder with the older driver. Talking sooner, rather than later, can help set mutual expectations and reduce safety issues or emotional reactions down the line.”