There are currently more than 23 million licensed drivers aged 70 and older and as baby boomers soon begin turning 70, the number of seniors on the road will rise steadily over the next two decades.
The majority of senior drivers are behind the wheel regularly, even with reported limited physical abilities, according to a new survey by Liberty Mutual Insurance, and though many seniors drive safely well into their later years, many will also eventually face the difficult decision to stop driving.
While 84 percent of senior drivers are open to conversations about limiting or stopping their driving, according to the Liberty Mutual survey, only 6 percent have spoken with someone about their driving abilities.
“These are difficult conversations, but important to have early and often, because everyone ages differently,” said David Melton, driving safety expert with Liberty Mutual Insurance and managing director of global safety. “Too often, these discussions are avoided until warning signs appear or, worse, there is a crash. It’s a step we all need to take to ensure the safety of our loved ones and the community.”
Based on a survey of 1,000 adults aged 75 and older, the Liberty Mutual Insurance report reveals that, despite declining physical abilities, the majority of senior drivers still drive regularly, with 41 percent driving every day and 38 percent driving several times a week.
In the past six months, the surveyed senior drivers report:
- Declining physical abilities: The majority (78 percent) drive regularly, even after reporting declining physical abilities; with one in six (16 percent) saying they tire easily or have slow reaction times, 13 percent reporting difficulty seeing or hearing, and nearly one in 10 (9 percent) reporting getting lost or feeling confused while driving.
- Avoiding driving conditions: 85 percent have avoided at least some type of driving condition or location, including driving after dark, during heavy traffic hours or in unfamiliar areas.
While nearly all senior drivers would consider limiting or stopping their driving if presented with the right reason, most are hesitant about the idea of life without driving. Concerns that may prevent seniors from transitioning to the passenger seat include:
- Losing independence: 64 percent;
- Becoming less active: 47 percent;
- Difficulty finding alternative forms of transportation: 45 percent; and
- Feeling isolated: 45 percent.
In 2013, Liberty Mutual Insurance conducted a survey of adult children of elderly drivers to determine if they were having conversations about driving with their aging parents and, if not, what was preventing them. Of those surveyed, 55 percent of children admitted they were concerned about their parents’ driving abilities and safety, yet nearly one-third avoided the conversation completely. Less than half thought that their parents would be open to a discussion and predicted a negative outcome, fearing they would be angry, hurt, or even more determined to keep driving.
However, Liberty Mutual’s new report reveals that more people may be avoiding conversations with aging drivers, yet more seniors are open to talking than many might think:
- Only 6 percent of senior drivers report having had a discussion about their driving abilities, despite 84 percent saying that they would be open to talking about the issue.
- The majority of seniors who have not yet had a conversation report they would feel most comfortable being approached by their children (66 percent) or doctor (60 percent).
- Seniors cite a doctor’s recommendation and their recognition of their own declining physical abilities as top reasons to limit or stop driving.
“We know from our surveys that seniors are more receptive to conversations about driving than their children assume, which often prevents conversations from happening,” said Melton. “In reality, seniors are usually so receptive to these conversations that many stop driving within six months of talking about it with their loved ones. These are tough conversations, but caregivers should take comfort knowing that these discussions are typically easier than expected and usually have positive outcomes.”
Interestingly, although three in five senior drivers say they would prefer having these discussions with their doctor present, physicians are rarely included in the conversation. However, with resources such as the Physicians Guide to Assessing and Counseling Older Drivers, created by the American Medical Association and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, today’s doctors and healthcare providers are well-equipped to address the issue with seniors and their loved ones.
More than 4,000 people aged 70 and older died in motor vehicle crashes in 2012, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. While the right time to stop driving is a personal decision and will be different for everyone, the first step is starting the conversation, and an essential part of that is a discussion about alternatives to driving, according to the report. The transition from the driver’s seat to the passenger seat is gradual, and understanding the available transportation alternatives helps older people maintain the independence, mobility and social engagement essential for quality of life.
“Concerns about maintaining independence and mobility are natural parts of the transition from the driver’s seat,” said Katherine Freund, founder and president of ITNAmerica, the first national nonprofit transportation network for America’s aging population. ”Families and communities should be supportive players in the transition by helping to ensure today’s growing elderly population remains active and engaged. When approaching the conversation, it’s important to acknowledge elders’ concerns, identify transportation alternatives and outline a plan for maintaining mobility.”
Liberty Mutual Insurance partners with ITNAmerica, which promotes transportation solutions for seniors by linking volunteers from the local community with seniors to provide rides 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Liberty Mutual Insurance commissioned ORC International to conduct its research study. The study included 1,000 telephone interviews among a national sample of seniors aged 75 or older. Of these, 582 reported that they still drive, while 418 stated that they no longer drive or no longer have a valid driver’s license.