The car-key debate can be a thorny source of friction in families where the elderly parents are still healthy and active. While self-aware seniors will usually admit that their reaction times and sensory acuteness aren’t what they were in their prime, they’re seldom willing to risk forfeiting the independence that comes with being able to drive on their own from place to place.Evocation Images / Shutterstock.com
So it’s encouraging to see some good news about senior driving safety in a study released today by AAA, the nonprofit association of automobile clubs. The report notes that older drivers continue to have the highest automobile-accident mortality rate of any age group—largely because their physical frailty makes them less likely to survive a serious crash. But on the bright side, the accident rate among older drivers has declined much faster than the national average in recent years. Between 1995 and 2010, the number of crashes per mile driven declined 42% percent for drivers ages 75-79, and 40% for drivers ages 80 to 84; that compares to a 28% decline for drivers of all ages.
The AAA report doesn’t identify a firm cause for the decline, but it certainly doesn’t hurt that more auto makers are equipping vehicles with “assistive features” that can make driving safer and more comfortable for older people. (Think adjustable foot pedals for seniors with leg injuries, or bigger dashboard controls for the visually impaired.) For several years, AAA has published a brochure that shows which new car makes and models offer which features; they’ve now rolled that material into an online car-finding tool. It’s not the most finely tuned search engine I’ve ever encountered – it might help you narrow your search from, say, 200 vehicles to 20, but it avoids picking winners. Still, it could be a useful starting point for anyone who’s helping their aging parents to find their next ride.