Keeping Older Adults Safe and Independent on the Road – Advice on How to Handle a Sensitive Topic

As CARIE’s Transportation Advocate, I found news of a recent local case regarding an automobile accident caused by an elderly man particularly engrossing.  On July 25th, a man in his 80’s reportedly drove his car into a Burger King on Market Street in Center City, Philadelphia.  As a result, seven people were transported to the hospital and one is in critical condition.  There was no mention of alcohol or drug impairment in the news report.   I am fully aware that unsafe driving related to age is a hot-button issue and that many worry it implies age discrimination.  For this reason, I want to be clear that advancing age alone does not render one an unsafe driver.  Factors such as medical conditions, side-effects from medicines and reduced functioning can make for unsafe drivers at any age.  Health care providers play a critical role in assessing a driver’s skills and rendering an opinion.  Friends, family, neighbors, caregivers and anyone concerned about an elderly driver’s ability should be frank and loving in expressing concerns.  A few warning signs that a driver’s ability may be declining are unexplained dents in the car, being honked at frequently, having lots of near-misses and reacting increasingly slowly. Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation’s website has an Older Drive Information Center which provides useful information regarding older drivers that includes older driver safety tips, medical reporting, information about how to talk about these issues with older drivers, mature driver improvement courses and more. Each state’s Department of Transportation website should have resources on this topic. Please look these up if you are concerned about the driving ability of yourself, a friend, family member or loved one. It is also important to acknowledge that for many driving represents freedom.  As delighted as a 16 year-old is to finally be able to drive and go places on their own, we should also consider how discouraged a declining older adult may feel upon being advised to stop driving.  It is important to be educated about alternate transportation options that exist when the ability to drive is lost.  It is understandable that seniors, like drivers of any other age, would be hesitant to give up driving unless other affordable, convenient transportation resources exist.  In Philadelphia County, seniors ride free on regular public transit through SEPTA’s Seniors Ride Free Program.  SEPTA’s CCT Connect offers Philadelphia’s seniors, age 65 and over, with door-to-door service for $4 cash fare one-way.  However, there are rural and suburban communities that do not have public transit so affordable options are limited or may not exist.   A recently published report by Transportation for America called Aging in Place: Fixing the Mobility Crisis Threatening the Baby Boom Generation details this dilemma and has policy recommendations to address it. Creating livable communities involves integrating senior transit in the overall planning process.  When buying your dream home, consider if your community offers convenient public transit if your intention is to age-in-place, rather than moving to a nursing home when you are no longer able to travel independently  Personally, with all I have learned at my tenure at CARIE, I think I’d like to retire to ranch-style home on well-lit street situated on a bus route with a covered bench that is also near a police station, grocery store, bank, senior center and post office that just so happens to be about a block away from a hospital.  Any personal stories or thoughts on how to handle this sensitive topic while helping older adults live independently?   By C. Allison Givhan, CARIE LINE Transportation Advocate at CARIE.  Visit or contact CARIE at 1-800-356-3606.   

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