HARRISBURG, DAUPHIN COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) With nearly a quarter of Pennsylvania’s licensed drivers 65 years of age or older, today the Wolf Administration hosted an event at Messiah Lifeways in Mechanicsburg to highlight the unique challenges faced by older drivers during Older Driver Safety Awareness Week, which is observed December 2-6.
“Mobility is essential to quality of life at any age,” said Kurt Myers, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) Deputy Secretary for Driver and Vehicle Services. “Many older drivers have a lifetime of valuable driving experience to draw from, and PennDOT continually seeks to balance the safety of our roadways with the need for independence and autonomy.”
Approximately 23 percent of Pennsylvania’s 8.9 million licensed drivers are 65 or older. In 2018, there were 21,746 crashes involving a driver 65 or older, resulting in 330 fatalities. This represents nearly 17 percent of the total crashes in Pennsylvania and nearly 28 percent of the fatalities.
“As Pennsylvania’s aging population continues to grow, the Wolf Administration is committed to ensuring that older adults have the resources they need to remain active in and connected to their communities,” said Secretary of Aging Robert Torres. “Driver safety awareness is a big part of that picture and if older adults need to make adjustments, accessible and available transportation alternatives become key to getting around. Pennsylvania is fortunate that our Lottery proceeds help to fund these alternative services.”
Pennsylvania has a network of shared-ride service providers dedicated to keeping older adults mobile, safe, and engaged in their community. This free transportation program allows citizens age 65 or older to ride for free on a local, fixed-route service whenever local public transportation is operating. During 2017-18, 83,252 riders accessed the Shared-Ride Program, totaling more than 3.3 million rides.
“Winter weather conditions, including snow and ice, longer nights, and heavy holiday traffic, can create challenges for drivers of all ages,” said Colonel Robert Evanchick, commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police. “We can all do our part to keep ourselves and our fellow travelers safe on the road by slowing down, buckling up, and never driving while impaired or distracted.”
Representatives from PennDOT, PDA, AARP and PSP manned information booths to share advice and methods for helping Messiah Village residents safely extend their years on the road. Advice ranged from knowledge of current and less emphasized laws to recognizing signs that it may be time to give up driving. For example, one program discussed was CarFit, an educational program created by the American Society on Aging and developed with AAA, AARP, and the American Occupational Therapy Association. CarFit is designed to help older drivers find out how well they currently “fit” their personal vehicle, to learn how they can improve their fit, and to promote conversations about driver safety and community mobility.
While every person ages differently, aging typically brings certain — sometimes subtle — physical, visual, and cognitive changes that could impair an older person’s ability to drive safely. Older drivers and their families should work together to identify potential issues that may affect driving, outline courses of action to assist the older driver, and plan for when it’s time to hang up the keys.
Signs that can indicate it may be time to limit or stop driving altogether include:
- Feeling uncomfortable, fearful, or nervous when driving;
- Unexplained dents/scrapes on the car, fences, mailboxes, or garage doors;
- Frequently getting lost and frequent “close calls” (i.e. almost crashing);
- Slower response times, particularly to unexpected situations;
- Difficulty paying attention to signs or staying in the lane of traffic; and
- Trouble judging gaps at intersections or highway entrance/exit ramps.
The Wolf Administration encourages older drivers and their loved ones to review PennDOT’s Seniors Driving Safely publication series, which can be downloaded for free from the PennDOT Driver and Vehicle Services website. These publications help older drivers assess their abilities and offer guidance on next steps if their medical condition is reported to PennDOT. The series also includes a publication designed to guide family and friends of older drivers in what can sometimes be difficult conversations about deciding to stop driving, as well as information for healthcare providers on PennDOT’s medical reporting program.
The following safe-driving habits, which should be routine at any age, are especially useful to older drivers:
- Plan ahead: lengthy car trips should be made during daylight hours. Morning may be best because most people aren’t as tired as they are in the afternoon.
- Don’t drive in rush-hour traffic if you can avoid it. Plan trips after 9:00 AM or before 5:00 PM. Know what roads near home are most congested and avoid them.
- When driving long distances, especially in winter, call ahead for weather and road condition updates.
- Look ahead. Good drivers get a jump on trouble by looking far down the road and making adjustments before encountering problems that may involve other vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists or animals.
- Maintain a safe speed. This depends on what the road is like, how well the driver can see, how much traffic there is and how fast traffic is moving.
- Keep a safe distance from the vehicle ahead of you. The PA Driver’s Manual advises that you should always keep a 4-second gap between you and the vehicle in front of you.