AFS Blog

Even Safe Older Drivers Need Transportation Options

Posted on January 17, 2018 | by Kathy Black
Even Safe Older Drivers Need Transportation Options

Editor’s Note: This article was written by Kathy Black and originally published in the Herald-Tribune on January 8, 2018.

People continue to drive more into their later years. This statement should come as no surprise, as driving is the preferred mode of transport for most people — a prized value of living independently, a means to age in the community, and a necessity for three out of four Americans who reside in auto-dependent suburban settings.

Although research suggests we outlive our ability to drive safely by seven to 10 years, older adults are among the nation’s safest drivers (though increased age is associated with greater injury and mortality in a crash).

Due to the diversity of the aging experience, chronological age alone does not, and should not, dictate the ability to drive. According to the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, only 21 percent to 37 percent of Sarasota County’s residents age 65 and older possess a Florida driver’s license.

Those percentages suggest that many people are licensed elsewhere, while others are utilizing alternative sources of travel or are stuck at home — which is associated with many subsequent problems, including isolation, depression, increased risk of falls, etc.

Fortunately, planning can help people prepare to stay mobile and, in our community, many efforts are in place to support transportation at all ages.

Research on transportation and aging conducted by the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee examined the importance of transportation features throughout the community and explored issues impacting the ability to get around. Nearly 1,200 Sarasota County residents between 50 and 98 rated transportation as the top community feature affecting the ability to age well in the community and identified “changes impacting the ability to drive,” “transitioning from driving,” and “lack of options” as top concerns.

There are several core abilities required to drive safely and simple remedies. For example, vision changes with age necessitate more time to recover from sun glare and can be compensated wearing by sunglasses. Cognitive abilities require the ability to accurately perceive and process sensory information and can be mitigated by changing medications. Flexibility can impact the ability to manage one’s vehicle.

CarFit is a program that offers free safety checkups to assess vehicular fit such as the proper positioning of a seat, mirrors, and safety belt. The automobile industry has enhanced car safety via automatic emergency braking, which will be a standard feature on new vehicles in 2022.

USF Sarasota-Manatee is pleased to partner with the Coalition for Safe Mobility — an initiative of the Florida Department of Transportation that aims to improve the safety and mobility of Florida’s aging population and provides a helpful resources for aging drivers.

On the coalition’s website, people concerned about their driving skills can take a self-assessment test or learn where to visit a driver rehabilitation specialist to obtain an independent evaluation.

Driving recommendations may simply require an adjustment to time and route of travel. Licensing requirements for persons age 80 and older are available on the website along with information on driver-safety courses that will lower car-insurance costs for people 55 and older.

Eventually, we all will face transition from driving. Family, friends, and providers can play an important role by being aware of warning signs such as dents or scrapes and recognizing changes in the driver’s abilities such as difficulty staying in one’s lane.

Conversations can be particularly difficult and should acknowledge the meaning and prospective loss of driving from the person’s perspective. Under Florida law, anyone who knows of a licensed driver’s mental or physical disability that makes driving risky is authorized to utilize a Medical Reporting Form, which is submitted to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

Discussions about transitioning away from driving should include alternative transportation opportunities. Transportation options in Sarasota include Sarasota County Area Transit, which is free for people age 80 and older, and SCAT Plus, which provides travel for people with disabilities. ITN Suncoast is a popular volunteer transportation program that provides rides throughout the region.

Uber and Lyft represent innovative, on-demand and planned transportation that is increasingly arranged to ensure travel to and from a variety of places. Many nonprofit organizations, including churches and residential-housing complexes, have long provided transportation for their members. Across the nation, neighbors are organizing to assist others with transportation. Home-delivered and streamed services can reduce the need for travel as well.

It is fitting for all of us, as individuals and as a community, to address and support transportation and mobility for people of all ages.



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