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AAA: Seniors should prepare for driving challenges

By Maria-Jose Subiria

msubiria@news-daily.com

While growing older, seniors may find new obstacles ahead that may negatively affect their driving ability, said a spokeswoman for the American Automobile Association (AAA) Auto Club South.

Through time, said Michele Harris, seniors may find their vision deteriorating, reaction times slowing, and that they have to muster extra energy for activities that were a breeze before.

"People, ages 65 and older, are the fastest-growing segment in today's population, and the issue of safe mobility for older drivers affects millions of families," said Harris, in a prepared statement. "Older Driver Safety Awareness Week is an opportunity for families to address both real, and perceived, challenges associated with driving and aging."

Harris said Older Driver Safety Awareness Week began on Monday, and will run until Friday, Dec. 10. It emphasizes to families the importance of openly communicating with seniors, to keep them safe and mobile on the road, she said.

Harris explained that, often times, it is difficult for families to approach seniors, and address their ability to drive safely. "It's [Older Driver Safety Awareness Week] to open up that conversation and make it OK to have those conversations," she said.

"Often times, conversations about an older person's safe driving ability can evoke strong emotional reactions, since concerns about personal independence can come into question," said the spokeswoman. "AAA encourages seniors and their families to approach these sensitive conversations as opportunities for constructive communication and problem-solving."

Harris said Older Driver Safety Awareness Week was created last year, through a partnership involving AAA, the American Occupational Therapy Association, highway groups, and other senior safety organizations.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, said Harris, by 2030, one in five people will be at least 65 years of age, with nearly 10 million adults, aged 85 or older. This demographic will have an estimated 90 percent of seniors with licenses to drive.

"For the most part, they [seniors] are the safest drivers around," said Harris. "We try to give them as many opportunities to stay as safe as they can."

Seniors and their families are able to visit AAA's senior driver safety and mobility web site -- www.AAASeniors.com -- which offers advice from experts, and "research-based tools," said Harris.

"The information and tools on the site are designed to aid in prompting conversations, assessing abilities and improving the comfort and safety of older drivers," she said. Other resources available through AAA, include the "AAA Roadwise Review," "CarFit," Smart Features for Mature Drivers and Senior Defense Driving, she said.

* AAA Roadwise Review is a free screening tool available to individuals online by visiting, www.seniordrivers.org, according to Harris. The review assists seniors in measuring certain mental and physical abilities necessary for driving safely.

* AAA also provides CarFit, an educational outreach program, that allows seniors to discover how well their current vehicle accommodates their needs. According to Harris, seniors are able to visit, www.car-fit.org, for more information about the program.

* Smart Features for Mature Drivers, educates seniors about a variety of features which may assist them with their current needs, and make for a more comfortable drive. Sometimes, individuals don't know how to handle the features included with their vehicles, Harris said.

Information on Smart Features for Mature Drivers can be found by visiting, www.aaaexchange.com.

* Senior Defense Driving is a course that is available at local AAA locations, or online, said Harris. It provides "driver training to help address the changes caused by aging and how a driver may compensate," said Harris. Harris said AAA members can take the course for $10, or online for $12.95. Non-members can take the course for $15, or online for $14.95.

Harris said during Older Driver Awareness Week, select AAA locations will be conducting Senior Defense Driving courses and CarFit events.

For more information, call AAA Auto Club South, at (813) 289-5831.