News and culture through the lens of Southern California.
Hosted by A Martínez
Airs Weekdays 2 to 3 p.m.

The Wheel Thing: Too old to drive? How to tell




Soon a quarter of the nation's drivers will be over 65.  When is it time to pull off the road?
Soon a quarter of the nation's drivers will be over 65. When is it time to pull off the road?
Laura Bloom

Listen to story

08:14
Download this story 3MB

Too old to drive? >>

For several decades, highway safety efforts have been focused primarily on teen drivers. They are much more likely to be involved in accidents, and also more likely to die in car crashes.

But at the other end of life's spectrum, far less is known about older drivers. Motorists over 65 are more likely to be injured or die in collisions than their counterparts who are just a few years younger. In fact, statistics show a 70-year-old is four times as likely to die than a 20-year-old in an accident of the same intensity.

Beyond that, there's little hard data about the concrete effects aging may have on the operation of a vehicle.

An unprecedented study hopes to shed some light on the nation's senior drivers, who will soon make up a quarter of all those behind the wheel.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety will follow 3,000 drivers, between the ages of 65 and 79, for five years. The Foundation has enlisted researchers from institutions such as Columbia, Johns Hopkins and UC-San Diego. Drivers will be interviewed, their medical history studied, and their cars will be fitted with GPS tracking devices.

Researchers will focus on a variety of functions that can decline with age, including vision, cognitive function and motor skills. They'll also look at the effects of common medications on driving ability.  

Dr. Emmy Betz of the University of Colorado Medical School is one of the lead investigators in the study.  She applauds the strides society has made in cutting death rates for teen drivers.

“Unfortunately, it’s much harder at the other end of the spectrum but equally important," says Betz. "Driving is so important for older adults because it’s the primary means of mobility.”

Which makes the question of when to take the keys away particularly tricky. Betz and the other researchers hope their work will lead to programs and protocols that help older people continue to drive successfully, and make it easier to understand when it's time to step away from the wheel.

Quick facts about drivers 65+

SOURCE: Automobile Association of America

Driving observations to determine if a senior should still drive:

Pluses:

Minuses:

SOURCE: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Non-driving observations to determine if a senior should still drive:

SOURCE: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Recommendations to increase 65+ driver safety:

SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control