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New Programs Help Older Persons Maintain Driving Skills

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On: Mon, Jul 22, 2013 at 3:45PM | By: Bill Wilson

New Programs Help Older Persons Maintain Driving Skills

We’re all getting older; that’s undeniable. But what may not be as obvious is that Americans as a group are aging, all 319 million of us. For the people who plan and build the nation’s infrastructure, this presents a monumental challenge, given that most people’s motoring skills decline as they age. Studies conducted by both government and private sources reveal the following facts:

• Beginning around age 20, the amount of light a person needs to see clearly doubles about every 13 years. For a 60-year-old, this means he or she must have eight times the volume of light to see clearly than someone 40 years younger requires.

• There is a strong correlation between a driver’s age and the odds of him or her being killed or seriously injured in an accident. One research project found that, between 2005-2008, nearly 50% of all motor vehicle fatalities occurred among drivers older than 40.

• One in five Americans will be 65 or older by the year 2020.

Unlike other developed nations, the United States is a country of drivers. Mass transit facilities are severely limited outside of major urban areas. This, combined with a largely decentralized population, means that the road system will have to find ways to accommodate persons whose vision, hearing, and reaction times are a fraction of what they once were. This issue is a primary concern of government planners, as demonstrated by this page on a Department of Transportation (DOT) website.

How do highways engineers and administrators plan to deal with the problem? By making public roads more user-friendly. Some of the measures already being implemented include the following:

• Replacing existing traffic signals with larger ones that can be seen from further away. The contrast between the three lights will also be more apparent.

• Adding millions of additional overhead signs along multi-lane highways.

• Making road signs out of materials with higher reflectivity levels, so that they can be seen more clearly during evening hours or in bad weather.

• Building lane dividers to separate traffic in congested areas, such as four-way intersections in cities and large towns.

• Making text on road signs larger. For example, STOP signs will use bigger fonts.

How older drivers can help themselves
While these changes will make driving easier and safer for older persons, those who wish to continue operating their vehicles will need to do what they can to keep their skills sharp. Fortunately, a number of resources now exist to help seniors in this regard. One of the best-known and most effective is operated by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). The program offers driver’s classes geared towards the needs of persons aged 50 and over, both online and in person.

There are additional steps that older individuals can use to reduce or even reverse the effects of age-related mental and physical decline. These include:

• Keeping physically active by exercising or playing a vigorous sport such as basketball.

• Staying mentally active by reading, taking classes, playing games like chess, or using an online service like Lumosity, which offers a variety of brain training games.

• Staying socially active by talking to others, joining clubs, and participating in social or community organizations and events.

As noted in the beginning of this article, aging is a fact of life. However, by combining public safety programs with individual efforts, most drivers will be able to operate their vehicles safely and effectively well into their golden years, enjoying the convenience and freedom that only driving can provide.


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