Keeping seniors safe behind the wheel

38 million Americans over 65 have driver's license

SAN ANTONIO – They've been behind the wheel for decades, but even as they start experiencing the signs of aging, many older drivers are reluctant to hang up the keys.

For worried kids and fellow drivers, there are programs and strategies that can help seniors drive safely or recognize when it's time to retire from the road.

At 70, Sandra Cunningham has Parkinson’s disease but wants to keep driving as long as possible and she is not alone.

There are 38 million Americans over the age of 65 with a driver's license, including 3.5 million who are older than 85.

But the assumption that older drivers are more likely to be involved in crash than younger drivers isn't correct.

"Decades of crash data actually says that isn’t the case,” Jennifer Stockburger, with Consumer Reports, said. “The highest rate and most dangerous drivers to others are actually the youngest drivers."

Stockburger said that fact could be because seniors are more likely to obey speed limits and far less likely to text and drive.

Cunningham did not let her diagnosis stop her, she worked with a certified driver rehabilitation specialist.

These specialists assess older drivers for things like vision, memory, processing speed and range of motion. 

They also can equip seniors with tips and tools to keep them safe. Tips that Cunningham said she appreciates.

"Making sure I can see over the wheel, adjusting my mirrors properly so I can see around me," she said.

Lynn Matthews a certified driver rehabilitation specialist said there are things people can do outside of the car that can help.

"One of the biggest things is keeping active and walking because the aerobic exercise is a great thing for our body and your mind to keep your responses quick," she said.

The goal, Matthews said, is to keep seniors behind the wheel as safe and as long as possible because putting the brakes on driving can lead to other problems.

"There’s a much higher rate of depression after seniors stop driving,” she said. “Data has shown that it actually increases the mortality rate, they're much more likely to end up in a nursing home."

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