Residents of Santa Monica, California will never forget the summer day 15 years ago, when an 86-year-old driver plowed his car through more than two blocks of the crowded Santa Monica Farmers’ Market in less than a minute, killing 10 and seriously injuring
63 others in one of the worse traffic accidents in U.S. history. While accidents like this are rare, according to autoblog.com
, the U.S. has not yet come up with a comprehensive way to handle the problem of aging drivers, even as millions of baby boomers reach and exceed the age of 70, predicted by the U.S. Census Bureau to rise to 52.7 million Americans by 2030.
“Are elderly drivers safe? Yes — for the most part. Do driving skills of elderly drivers decline with age? Yes,” according to aging-parents-and-elder-care.com. It can be very difficult to suggest to an aging parent that it’s time to stop driving, and give up the freedom and independence to shop, visit others and go to the movies without having to rely on anyone else. It wouldn’t work to revoke older Americans’ drivers’ licenses at a certain age, because, like other age groups, driving skills vary from one elderly person to another. But family members and caregivers need to evaluate the elderly person’s driving abilities, and monitor whether or not she or he drives at inappropriate speeds, misses or ignores street signs and traffic lights, or has one or more near accidents or near misses.
Aging-parents-and-elder-care.com has list of strategies for elderly drivers to help ensure they are not dangerous to themselves or others. For example:
- Avoid driving at night and, if possible, at dawn or dusk
- Drive only to familiar locations
- Avoid driving to places far away from home
- Avoid expressways (freeways) and rush hour traffic
- Leave plenty of time to get where they are going
- Don’t drive alone
Further advice is to encourage your elderly parent or friend to use public transportation and senior transportation when it is available, in preparation for when they are no longer able to drive safely. When you feel strongly that your elderly parent cannot drive safely, you have a painful duty to get him or her to stop driving, and avoid the possibility of an incident like the Santa Monica tragedy.
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