It seems that fewer older drivers are involved in fatal accidents these days, a trend that might surprise some people. Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that a large part of this is due to a tough decision made on the part of the seniors themselves.
The dreaded encounter between a concerned family and the aging driver is very familiar to most Americans, and is played out nationwide every single day. On an episode of the TV comedy Everybody Loves Raymond called “Driving Frank,” the family has become increasingly worried about the driving skills and reaction time of Raymond’s father, Frank. It reaches the point where Ray and his wife Debra become concerned about their safety and that of their children, prompting Debra to suggest that they confront Frank about the issue. The conversation goes something like this:
Ray: I don’t think I can tell him he can’t drive his own grandchildren.
Debra: Why not? He’s too aggressive.
Ray: That’s why I can’t tell him!
While it makes for good sitcom fodder, anyone who’s had to deal with this awkward conversation knows that it’s both very real, and very daunting. Asking an older person to give up their keys can be equivalent to removing their last shred of dignity and freedom. Suddenly, something they’ve been doing for 60 years or more is forbidden, and they’re left to rely on the schedules and whims of others.
This is what makes this study so fascinating. Despite the fact that the number of people aged 70 and over continues to increase — and will do so exorbitantly once the boomers reach this age — seniors themselves are taking the initiative and responsibility to limit their driving time. By cutting out night driving, reducing the number of trips, traveling shorter distances, and avoiding busy roads and bad weather, seniors may actually be extending their freedom. After all, as they eliminate potential dangers, it becomes increasingly less likely that family members will feel the need to bring up the issue of driving in the first place.
In this age of information overload, it’s easy to read a study like this and see only the statistics, but we need to remember that each figure represents someone faced with a life-changing decision. It’s important to note that a growing number of seniors are making smart, responsible decisions concerning their safety and that of the other drivers on the road — and judging by the numbers, it’s working.