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How to Help Clients Determine if Their Aging Loved Ones Should Be Driving

March 25, 2019 

Driving is critical to helping aging loved ones maintain their health and independence. But what if it becomes dangerous for them to get behind the wheel?


Source: Older Drivers, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety & Highway Loss Data Institute, 5/18

During WWII, a Dutch warship in Indonesia was completely surrounded by Japanese ships while planes hovered above. The crew was trapped. Their only hope was to escape to Australia, 1,000 miles away. But the ship was slow and had few guns, so departing would make them a sitting duck. Then the captain had the idea to disguise the ship as an island. The crew covered the ship with foliage to blend it with thousands of small nearby islands. All day the ship stayed still, only moving at night. The Japanese never noticed its movement, and eight days later the ship safely arrived in Australia. Without the captain’s ingenious idea, the ship would’ve remained trapped.

Likewise, aging adults can feel trapped when they’re no longer able to drive. Because aging can cause eyesight to worsen and it can delay reaction time, driving could put clients’ loved ones—and others—at risk. But being stuck at home makes them vulnerable to isolation and depression. If clients are caring for an aging loved one and wondering if they should be driving, this puts them in a predicament. Fortunately, car companies have come up with innovative ideas to help keep drivers safe on the road as they age.


What We’ll Cover:

  • The risk of not driving
  • Are aging drivers dangerous?
  • Car tech that helps older drivers


First, the Risk of Not Driving

For aging drivers, the thought of not being able to drive is scary because it can mean a loss of independence. If your client’s loved one doesn’t drive, they may need to ask your client, other family members, or friends for rides. They’ll need rides to medical appointments, the grocery store, and even to places where they can have fun. But they can feel like they’re being a nuisance if they have to depend on others to shuttle them around. At first your clients might be glad to help out, but over time providing transportation can become challenging when they’re managing other responsibilities. There Are Other Ways to Get Around, But Change Can Be Difficult

Ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft can be good options for your client’s loved one to get from place to place. But these services aren’t available everywhere. And to use these apps, aging adults will need a smartphone. They may also be wary of getting into a stranger’s car. Public transportation or taxis can be other options depending on their location, but they’re not free. Therefore, your client’s loved one might be tentative about using them to make trips, especially non-essential trips.


Aging Adults Aren’t Using Uber as Much as Younger People

% of Americans who use ride-sharing services like Uber & Lyft


Source: Snapshot: Who Uses Ride-Sharing Services in the U.S.? Gallup, 7/25/18. Percentages may not add up to 100% because of rounding.


So Aging Adults Take Fewer Trips and Stay Home

Staying home limits opportunities for social interaction, which can lead to isolation and, oftentimes, health problems. Seniors who’ve stopped driving are nearly twice as likely to suffer from depression, with a five times greater chance of entering a long-term care facility as those who remain behind the wheel.1 The risks of not driving are significant, so if older drivers keep driving, how unsafe are they?


Second, How Dangerous Are Older Drivers?

Trying to understand if older drivers are dangerous is difficult. While some studies show that the ability to drive safely decreases with age, the actual number of accidents involving older drivers decreases as age increases. Experts attribute this decline to self-imposed limitations, such as driving fewer miles, avoiding night driving, rush-hour traffic, and other difficult conditions. Therefore, sharing the roadways with older drivers poses a relatively low risk to other drivers.2

And Yet, Older Drivers Have a Reputation for Being Some of the Most Dangerous Drivers on the Road

Why? Crashes involving older drivers tend to get more media attention. “That’s unfair to the general population of older adults, who are among the safest drivers on the road,” according to Jacob Nelson, director of traffic safety advocacy and research at AAA.

While “older drivers” in general may not pose a large risk on the roads, the risk does seem to increase after age 70. Compared to other age groups, drivers age 70 and older have higher crash rates per mile driven than middle-age drivers, yet not as high as young drivers.3 Medical conditions, medication usage and reduced physical function can increase the risk of accidents and injury among older adults.

Clients Can’t Use Statistics to Figure Out if Their Loved One Should or Shouldn’t Be Driving

We all have strengths and weaknesses when it comes to driving. So how can clients determine if their loved is safe being on the road? One way is to have a comprehensive driving evaluation done by an occupational therapist with specialized training. In a few hours, they can assess an aging adult’s ability to drive and provide a report with their recommendations.

The cost of an evaluation ranges from $250 and $600.4 To find a local occupational therapist, clients can visit the American Occupational Therapy Association’s website at aota.org/olderdriver. For tips about how clients can approach their loved one about having a comprehensive driving evaluation, they can get The Hartford’s We Need to Talk guide.

Now let’s review car technology that can help make aging adults safer drivers.


Third, Car Tech That Helps Aging Drivers

There’s a perception that adding tech gadgets to vehicles will just make driving more complicated and increase the potential for distraction, but that’s really not the case. Safe driving tech is designed to work behind the scenes and only provides alerts when a driver is about to have a potential accident. If your client’s loved one is considering buying a new car, tell your client about some of the safety gadgets that are now available. AAA offers an online tool, Find the Right Vehicle for You, that can help clients and their loved one evaluate the options. Here are some to consider:

characters, mature adult couple

Automatic braking: Automatically apply brakes if a driver is about to collide with another vehicle or obstruction. Drivers suffering from vision problems and diminished reflex times can benefit. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety data shows rear-end collisions fall by 50% on vehicles with automatic braking.5 Consider a vehicle that has both forward and rear auto-braking.

characters, mature adult couple

Blind Spot Warning: Watches for other cars alongside a driver’s vehicle that the driver may not see. If a car is getting too close, the driver gets an alert.

characters, mature adult couple

Lane Departure Warning: Alerts drivers if their vehicle inadvertently begins drifting into another lane without using a turn signal.

The Find the Right Vehicle for You website can also help clients identify the makes and models of cars within various price ranges that may best suit their loved one’s particular needs, like diminished vision, a limited upper-body range of motion, short stature or being overweight, and decreased leg strength.


Is the Cost of Car Safety Tech Worth it?

Clients are likely only to find these safety options in fairly new cars. Many of the features can be standard in luxury models, but they’ll probably pay extra for these features in mid-level models. The cost of these features can easily reach $3,000 or more depending on the options they choose. And, they need to be aware that their insurance could increase because the cost to repair these safety features if they’re damaged is more expensive.

An occupational therapist can help them determine which ones are actually necessary. While the price of a new vehicle equipped with safety options is pricey, these options may help your client’s loved one avoid collisions, avoid injuring themselves or others, and maintain a sense of independence—which can make these options well worth the cost.


Help Clients Remember These Things When They’re Determining if Their Aging Loved One Should Be Driving

First, not driving can lead to feelings of being trapped at home and puts people at a higher risk of isolation and depression. Second, old age doesn’t automatically equate to poor driving ability. Third, new technology is available to help meet the needs of older drivers.


Not Driving Can Mean a Loss of Independence

Like the crew of the Dutch warship, aging adults who can’t drive can feel trapped and stuck without the freedom to go where they want, when they want. At some point, your client’s loved one will probably have to give up driving, but car safety options can keep them on the road as long as possible.


Next Steps

  1. Download the client piece below: How to Determine if Your Aging Loved One Should Be Driving
  2. For clients with aging loved ones, suggest that they begin researching the safety features on cars
  3. Consider hosting a client event at a client event to a car dealer who can discuss car safety features. Clients and their loved ones could take a test drive to see how these new safety options work and how easy they are to use.


1 Older Drivers, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety & Highway Loss Data Institute, 5/18

2 We Need to Talk, The Hartford, 5/18

3 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 2015. Most recent data available.

4 Your Road Ahead, The Hartford, 4/16. Most recent data available.

5 Top auto safety, assist features available — at a price, The Detroit News, 2/20/18

6 Video Review: Subaru Impreza, Still Solid, but a Little More Stylish, The New York Times, 4/27/17. Most recent data available.

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Hartford Funds may or may not be invested in the companies referenced herein; however, no particular endorsement of any product or service is being made.