Oldest Drivers Are Driving More--And Driving Medicated More--Than Ever

May 11, 2014

Older Americans are driving more often, and later in life, than those in previous generations, according to a report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The insights from the study are quite eye-opening and provide an opportunity for tips older drivers – and their families – can use to help seniors extend their time behind the wheel.

Report highlights

The findings speak to trends about older drivers, some of which are surprising.

  • 25 percent of men and 18 percent of women remain in the workforce after age 65, resulting in more than double the work-related commutes for drivers 65 and older compared to 20 years ago
  • 68 percent of drivers age 85 or older report driving five or more days per week
  • Drivers 65 years and older posted a 20-percent increase in trips and a 33-percent hike in miles traveled

The report, Understanding Older Drivers: An Examination of Medical Conditions, Medication Use and Travel Behaviors, further shows that 90 percent of older drivers also use prescription medications. Two-thirds of these senior drivers take multiple medications.

Previous research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety showed that medication combinations, both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC), can result in an impairment in safe driving ability.

  • 75 percent of drivers aged 65 and older with a medical condition report reduced daily driving
  • Self-regulating behavior, among those taking several medications or with a medical condition, declines with increasing income. Female drivers ages 65-69 with an annual income under $13,000 were 62 percent more likely to restrict nighttime driving than women with $70,000+ incomes

ALSO SEE: 4 Great Car Features For Older Drivers

Senior driver backing up - AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

Senior driver backing up - AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

Enlarge Photo

How to help older drivers safely continue driving

To gain a better understanding of what older Americans – and their loved ones – can do to help extend seniors’ time behind the wheel, The Car Connection spoke with Jake Nelson, Director of Traffic Safety Advocacy & Research, AAA National.

What precautions should older drivers be taking, specifically?

Nelson: Older drivers need to be aware that the medications they take (both prescriptive and OTC) can affect their ability to drive safely. They need to discuss this possibility with their doctor. Roadwise Rx can aid in this conversation by flagging potential issues.

What prescription and OTC drugs pose the most risks?

Nelson: Sleep aids, both prescriptive and OTC, and opiate pain medications are particularly risky for drivers.

Is there any database on drivers taking medications?

Nelson: There exists no national database of drug use by drivers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA’s) FARS database has information on some, but not all, drug use by drivers involved in fatal crashes. Data on drug use by drivers is very weak.

What can adult children do to discuss this matter with aging or elderly parents who drive?

Nelson: Adult children and caregivers of aging drivers should ensure that they are aware of the medications the driver is taking. They should also encourage the driver to review this information with their doctor.

Is there an age when driving should cease? If so, how should adult children and older drivers prepare for this?

Nelson: No, chronological age is in no way an indicator of when someone should retire from driving. Medical fitness to drive is what matters. Self-screening tools like AAA’s Roadwise Review is a good tool for drivers without some form of dementia. Otherwise, a formal assessment conducted by an Occupational Therapy Driver Rehabilitation Specialist is the best option. These professionals will identify risks and recommend ways to mitigate them, if possible.

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