For most Americans, the ability to drive is essential to who we are and is deeply connected to our independence and our identity as productive, responsible members of society, notes the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), Bethesda, Md. But as drivers age, often the talk turns to taking away the keys. However, increasing age doesn’t mean you have to stop driving. New research from the MIT AgeLab, Cambridge, Mass, and The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc, Hartford, Conn, highlights ways to help drivers determine their driving fitness and enable them to stay on the road longer.

As a group, older drivers are relatively safe and tend to voluntarily limit their driving, says AOTA. According to new survey results, as age increases so does the rate of self regulation—making smart choices based on experience to limit the amount and type of driving.

• In general, drivers over the age of 75 (69%) are most likely to self regulate their driving.
• Just over half (53%) of drivers between 50 to 64 years old, and 58% of those between 65 to 74 years old self-regulate.
• The top situations that drivers over 75 avoid to keep themselves safe on the road include:

  • Driving at night (53%);
  • Driving in bad weather (51%);
  • Driving in heavy traffic (38%).

“Safe driving is about ability not age,” said Jodi Olshevski, gerontologist and assistant VP, The Hartford Advance 50 Team, in a statement released by AOTA. “If a particular driver is unsafe, it is often due to an underlying medical condition. Recent public attention has focused on taking away the keys from older drivers, but we believe it’s time to change that conversation. Instead, we should understand more fully what is required to keep older drivers safely on the road for as long as possible.”

According to the survey, while the majority of drivers over 50 self-regulate, a significant number don’t know when they will stop driving.

•One in seven current drivers say they’ll never stop driving, and 44% don’t know at what age they’ll stop.
•Drivers over 75 years old are more than twice as likely to say they’ll drive into their 90s as those between 65 to 74 years old.

“It’s important for all us to be aware of driving skills—and changes in them—throughout our lifetime,” said Lisa D’Ambrosio,PhD, research scientist, MIT AgeLab. “If you’re concerned about your driving or have a medical condition, one way to keep yourself safe is to have a comprehensive driving evaluation conducted by a specially trained occupational therapist. While 88% of adults have never heard of comprehensive driving evaluations, our research found them to be an effective tool to determine whether, and under what circumstances, an individual should continue or stop driving.”

You should consider a comprehensive driving evaluation:
• If you feel your driving continues to be fine, but you want a professional opinion;
• If you are feeling your age—not seeing quite as well as you once did, are experiencing slowed reaction time or have a loss of flexibility;
• If you have one or more medical conditions that may lead to a loss of range, flexibility, or strength in your arms or legs;
• If you have suffered a loss of peripheral vision, depth perception, or other vision-related change;
• If you have been told that you should stop driving, even if you disagree; and
• If you would like to resume driving after a period of non-driving.

Comprehensive driving evaluations include a clinical evaluation—which involves a variety of cognitive, visual, and physical assessments—an on-the-road test, and either oral or written feedback on the results of the evaluation. Occupational therapists then will work with you to develop a plan to continue driving safely. This may include self regulation, rehabilitation, training, and even vehicle modifications—or prepare you to stop driving altogether.

More information is available in Your Road Ahead: A Guide to Comprehensive Driving Evaluations, a new guidebook created by The Hartford Advance 50 Team, MIT AgeLab, and AOTA to help older adults—and their family and friends—learn about comprehensive driving evaluations and the benefits they may provide. Click here for free copies of Your Road Ahead and interactive tools such as a crash risk assessment, warning signs to watch for, a driving wellness action plan, and an interactive blog community.

In 2009, MIT AgeLab and The Hartford completed research on comprehensive driving evaluations and older drivers. Focus groups were conducted with adults who have completed comprehensive driving evaluations, caregivers, and occupational therapists. A survey, fielded
between October 22 to 25, 2009, was completed by 2,500 members of a managed-access panel who were 18-plus years of age and representative of the US household population.

Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, The Hartford became a founding sponsor of the MIT AgeLab in 1999. The Hartford’s Advance 50 Team and the MIT AgeLab aim to produce original research to improve the quality of life for older adults and their families, and to help guide important decisions about safety, mobility, and independence.

The Hartford is an insurance-based financial services company that serves households, businesses, and employees by helping to protect their assets and income from risks, and by managing wealth and retirement needs. The Fortune 500 company has in-house experts on aging. For more than 25 years, it has employed gerontologists to advance the creation and delivery of research, educational materials, and business solutions to enhance the quality of life for the 50-plus market.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab is a global research program based within MIT’s Engineering Systems Division and Center for Transportation & Logistics. The AgeLab conducts research on technology, behavior, and innovation to improve the quality of life of older people and those who care for them.

AOTA advances the quality, availability, use, and support of occupational therapy through standard-setting, advocacy, education, and research on behalf of its members and the public. The contributions of occupational therapy to health, wellness, productivity, and quality of life are widely used, understood, and valued by society, says AOTA. Occupational therapists trained in driver rehabilitation provide a key component to the evaluation of older driver safety and rehabilitation. The AOTA Older Driver Safety Web site at is a resource for occupational therapy professionals, other health care providers, consumers, and caregivers.

[Source: AOTA]