TAMPA, Fla. – Older drivers with a history of falling are 40 percent more likely to be involved in crashes than their peers, according to a new study released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Falls limit an older driver’s ability to function behind the wheel and can make driving risky for themselves and others on the road. These findings are important since annually a record 12 million older adults will experience a fall.
“Drivers age 60 and older are involved in more than 400,000 crashes each year, and it’s important that we find ways to keep them and others safe on the road.” said Peter Kissinger, President and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “This research is critical because it shows that we can now use an older driver’s fall history to identify if they are at greater risk for a crash.”
The report, Associations Between Falls and Driving Outcomes in Older Adults, is the latest research released in the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers (LongROAD) project. Researchers from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus along with the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety say that falls can increase crash risk in two ways:
· Falls can result in a loss of functional ability (i.e. wrist fractures or a broken leg), which can make it difficult for older drivers to steer or brake to avoid a crash.
· Falls can increase an individual’s fear of falling, which can lead to a decrease in physical activity that weakens driving skills.
“When it comes to physical health, it’s important to stay active,” said Michele Harris, Traffic Safety Consultant, AAA - The Auto Club Group. “Falls often scare people into being more sedentary, but decreasing physical activity can weaken muscles and coordination thus making someone more likely to be in a crash.”
The research suggests that seniors and their families should view falls as a possible early indicator of declining physical fitness. Addressing the health issues that originally led to the fall such as lower body weakness, poor balance, slow reaction time, certain medications, dizziness, or vision problems, can help older drivers strengthen their functional ability and lower their risk for crashing or experiencing another fall in the future.
“Older drivers should find activities that enhance balance, strengthen muscles and promote flexibility,” continued Harris. “Even a low impact fitness training program or driver improvement course can help safely extend an older driver’s years on the road.”
Fall prevention is a great way for older drivers to keep themselves and others safe while on the road. Those concerned about a parent or other older driver should help them monitor risk factors that address health concerns or household dangers. What may help is a series of exercises to improve neck, shoulder, trunk, back and overall body flexibility, which can help a driver who has suffered from a recent fall.