DPH’s Older Driver Task Force Partners with DDS to Keep Senior Citizens Moving Safely

December 22, 2014

There are many things to appreciate when it comes to getting older – having wisdom, experience and lifelong successes are just a few of them.  However, other factors of aging often come with more complicated physical changes such as the decline of strength, vision, memory and reflexes.  

These physical changes become particularly important when considering road safety given changing technology, driving rules, as well as distrations available in and around our vehicles while driving on Georgia's busy roads and highways.

Older drivers have a higher rate of motor vehicle fatalities compared to other adult age groups on a per vehicle mile traveled (VMT) basis, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).  In 2008, drivers 65 years and older had the highest driver crash fatality rate (14.2 per 1,000 crashes) among all driving age populations, including teenagers.  Also in 2008, 69 percent of older drivers involved in fatal crashes in Georgia died, according to the Georgia crash data system.  

In 2012, Georgia drivers 65 years of age and older were involved in 204 fatal traffic crashes.  Also, 20 percent of all 2012 occupant fatalities involved a crash with a driver 65 years of age and older. 

The representation of older adults involved in traffic violations or wrecks exemplify the urgent need for increased safe driver programs for senior citizens.  According to the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH), it is projected that motor vehicle crashes in Georgia will account for the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths among older adults age 65 and older by 2025.  

In the past, there were limited options to help older drivers maintain the independence and mobility that comes with driving in Georgia.  Now, through services provided by DPH's Older Driver Task Force and partners throughout the aging network, the state agency is providing tools and services that allow senior citizens to enjoy the open road for as long as it's safe for them to continue driving.

The Georgia Older Driver Task Force, funded by the Governor's Office of Highway Safety (GOHS), works to sustain the mobility and safety of older drivers as well as reduce the number of injuries and fatalities among aging drivers.  By fostering partnerships with the aging network, which includes the Division of Aging Services, Area Agencies on Aging and the Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS), the task force provides hands-on training, resources and evidence-based education to older drivers and their care givers.

“Older drivers are our neighbors, family and the people sitting next to us at church. We want and need for them to continue to be engaged in the community," said Elizabeth Head, older driver program coordinator for DPH's Injury Prevention Section. "Safe transportation options are vital to ensuring their continued independence and mobility. Through the Older Driver Task Force, we are finding creative ways to educate senior citizens about important safe driving protocols that support mobility and safety.” 

Recently, the Older Driver Task Force assisted with rolling out a new DDS website dedicated to providing online resources and information for older drivers.  The new site connects older drivers to information that caters to their needs such as accessing handicap ID cards, renewing driver licenses when vision report forms are required and even surrendering a driver’s license.

For older drivers wanting to refresh their driving skills, DDS provides information on its Certified Defensive Driving and Driver Improvement Schools, Certified Driving Rehabilitation Specialists program and the Georgia Traffic Injury Prevention Institute (GTIPI).  These educational resources help drivers access behind the wheel assessments facilitated by rehabilitation specialists, learn how aging impacts their driving ability and secure a wealth of information on how aging citizens can contribute to a safe driving environment in their communities.

GTIPI also offers the CarFit program, which educates drivers, especially older adults, on how to fit correctly and safely in their seat while driving.  It is a free educational program that includes trainer certification and driver education.  Once certified, CarFit events are voluntarily hosted at churches, senior community centers and grocery store parking lots. 

“Providing updated and relevant education to older drivers on how aging can change their driving abilities is paramount,” Head said. “By offering a variety of services that range from basic classroom settings to hands-on training, we can ensure older drivers are fully equipped with the information needed to drive safely or have information about alternative transportation options if they decide to stop driving. This is critical for their continued independence.”

Head recommends six simple steps Georgians can follow to stay safe on the road.  While some of them are targeted to older citizens, these safe driving tips apply to drivers of any age such as:

  • Be proactive about maintaining safe driving skills. Take a certified driver safety course to ensure you’re following proper driving protocols while traveling on Georgia roads.
  • Talk to your doctor about conditions and medications that may affect your driving.
  • Attend a CarFit safety event to ensure you have a proper safety belt fitting in your motor vehicle.
  • Learn where your safe driving skills are now. Take a self-assessment test or find a certified driver rehabilitation specialist to secure an evaluation.
  • Learn what transportation options are available in your community. Start by visiting your local Area Agencies on Aging webpage.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk about safe driving. Learn how to start a conversation when concerned about your own driving or someone else’s driving.

For more information on DPH’s Older Driver Task Force and statewide safe driving activities, visit www.dph.georgia.gov/older-drivers-safety-program.  To learn more about the impacts of medical conditions in older drivers, visit NHTSA online to view its older drivers video toolkit.

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