A new report from the Triple-A Foundation for Traffic Safety finds older Americans are spending more time behind the wheel of their cars compared to previous generations. Triple-A Iowa spokesperson, Gale Weinholzer, says there’s been a significant increase in the last couple of decades in the number of American seniors who hold onto their driver’s licenses. “In fact, about 84-percent of all Americans over the age of 65 have a driver’s license — which was only about half of that as far back as the early 70s,” Weinholzer says.
She says the seniors have been driving longer distances when they get in the car. “About a 33-percent increase, so between the 20-percent increase in the number of trips and the 33-percent increase in the total miles traveled, seniors have become far more mobile than they have ever been in the past,” Weinholzer says. Iowa is part of the trend as the DOT reports in 2013 there were 405,000 drivers over the age of 65 out of some 2.2 million overall drivers. That’s 18-percent, compared to 2009 where 285,000 or 15-percent of the drivers were over 65.
Weinholzer says not all of the increase in senior travel is due to vacations and visits to the grandkids. “Twenty-five-percent of men after the age of 65 are still working, 18-percent of women after the age of 65 are still working. So, there’s no doubt some of that increased mobility is due to some people working beyond the age of retirement,” Weinholzer says.
Weinholzer says statistics show older drivers are very safe. “They are underrepresented in crashes — but the problem of course is because they get more fragile — they are overrepresented in fatalities,” according to Weinholzer. Another issue with older Americans is they tend to be taking more medications that are given out from different sources, which can lead to problems. “There’s a significant amount of a mixture of medications, whether it be coming from a general practitioner, a specialist of some sort, or a television ad that they see on TV or the normal over-the-counter drugs,” Weinholzer says. “So, that mixture of medications is reason for some concern.”
Weinholzer says Triple-A has created a website where you can enter the medications you are taking and determine if there could be a mixture that would lead to problems while driving. The websits can be found at: www.aaa.com/roadwiserx. Weinholzer says Triple-A is not discouraging older people from driving, but they do want them to be sure they are doing so without risk.
She says they understand how important driving is to seniors. “Driving is a significant freedom issue — you know 55-percent of drivers over the age of 85 still drive five or more days a week — that’s more than just to the doctor, that’s more than just to church,” Weinholzer says, “it involves social activities and civic organizations and volunteerism. And we know obviously that seniors are a great source of volunteers in our communities.” The Iowa DOT says there are 32,000 drivers in the state between 85 and 89, 10,600 between 90-95, 1,400 between 95 and 99 and there are 64 registered drivers who are 100 or older.