A new report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds older Americans are spending more time behind the wheel compared to previous generations.
Gail Weinholzer, spokeswoman for AAA-Nebraska, says there’s been a big rise in recent years in the number of senior citizens holding onto their driver’s licenses.
“In fact, about 84% of all Americans over the age of 65 have a driver’s license — which was only about half of that as far back as the early 70s,” Weinholzer says.
The Nebraska Department of Roads reports a decade ago, 107,000 Nebraskans between the ages of 65 and 74 still had their licenses. Last year, the number was much higher, at 138,000.
She says the seniors have also been driving longer distances when they get in the car and it’s not all due to vacations and visits to the grandkids.
“Twenty-five-percent of all men after the age of 65 are still working, 18% of all women after the age of 65 are still working. So, there’s no doubt some of that increased mobility is due to some people working beyond the age of retirement,” Weinholzer says.
She says statistics show older drivers are very safe.
“They are underrepresented in crashes but the problem, of course, is because they are a bit more fragile, they are overrepresented in fatalities,” according to Weinholzer.
A report from the Nebraska Department of Roads finds four-percent of the motorists killed in crashes in 2002 were 80 years old or older, while in 2011, the figure rose to more than nine-percent.
Another issue with older Americans is they tend to be taking more medications that are given out from different sources, which can lead to problems.
“There’s a significant amount of a mixture of medications, whether it be coming from a general practitioner, a specialist of some sort, or a television ad that they see on T-V or the normal over-the-counter drugs,” Weinholzer says. “So, that mixture of medications is reason for some concern.”
Weinholzer says AAA has created a website where you can enter the medications you are taking and determine if there could be a mixture that would lead to problems while driving. The website can be found at: www.aaa.com/roadwiserx.
She says AAA is not discouraging older people from driving, but they do want them to be sure they are doing so without risk. She says driving is very important to seniors.
“Driving is a significant freedom issue — you know 55-percent of drivers over the age of 85 still drive five or more days a week — that’s more than just to the doctor, that’s more than just to church,” Weinholzer says, “it involves social activities and civic organizations and volunteerism. And we know obviously that seniors are a great source of volunteers in our communities.”