Every so often, a politician or advocacy group floats the idea of instituting driver's tests for older drivers. Such ideas have never gained much traction.
Maybe that's because organizations like the AARP carry massive political weight. Or maybe it's because younger people don't like the idea of telling their parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles that they're no longer allowed to drive.
But that doesn't do much to address the problem of older drivers, many of whom may be losing the skills necessary to keep themselves and others safe on the road. Some seniors have begun policing themselves, while other families are taking part in counseling sessions.
The University of Florida offers a new approach to this dilemma, and it's called the Fitness-to-Drive Screening Measure. (Not the catchiest of names, we admit.)
In many ways, Fitness-to-Drive resembles some of the counseling tools we've seen before, but as an analytic tool, it seems much more thorough. It takes the form of a survey, which allows a family member or caregiver for an older driver to rate that person on her/his driving abilities. The survey requires that the respondent has ridden with the driver within the past three months, and it consists of four distinct sections:
1. Information about the respondent.
2. Information about the driver.
3. Driving history of the person being rated.
4. Rating the driver on any of 54 driving tasks.
Once the questionnaire is completed, Fitness-to-Drive analyzes the data and assigns the driver to one of three categories:
- At-risk driver: Although the driver can perform some basic driving skills, there are safety concerns that need immediate attention.
- Routine driver: The driver shows early signs of needing intervention. There are driving skills that are causing concern.
- Accomplished driver: Driving is overall good, but difficulty may be experienced with some challenging driving situations.
Since the person filling out the survey isn't likely a trained occupational therapist, the analysis can't be taken as conclusive. However, if a driver rates at the low end of the scale, it might warrant further testing under controlled circumstances. The information can also help doctors and others find ways to help the older person continue driving -- through the seat pads, for example, which boost the driver and give her better range of vision.
Fitness-to-Drive is free, and the questionnaire takes about 20 minutes to complete. For more info, visit the Fitness-to-Drive website.