Nearly 90 percent of senior drivers -- who are more than twice as likely to be killed when involved in a crash -- do not make small, inexpensive changes to their vehicles that could improve safety and extend their time on the road, according to an Auto Club study released Tuesday.
According to the Auto Club, the state Plan on Aging has determined that a "silver tsunami" of older drivers is set to hit California, with the number of people age 60 and older increasing 40 percent by 2030.
"If 75 percent of seniors were licensed in 2015, that adds up to 6.5 million licensed mature drivers," said Anita Lorz Villagrana, the Automobile Club of Southern California's community affairs and traffic safety manager. "And, increasingly, seniors are driving more miles than 20 years ago."
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that the vast majority of older drivers don't add pedal extensions, seat cushions or multifaceted mirrors to their vehicles, even though those features could reduce the risk of a crash.
"While many seniors are considered to be safe drivers, they are also the most vulnerable," said David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. "Our research suggests that most senior drivers are not taking advantage of simple and inexpensive features like steering wheel covers that can greatly improve their safety and the safety of others on the road."
AAA is promoting the report in partnership with the American Occupational Therapy Association to support Older Driver Safety Awareness Week, which begins Saturday. The study represents the first phase of research on aging drivers designed to better understand their risks and needs.
Adding safety features can also keep senior drivers on the road longer. Seat pads can minimize back or hip pain while improving line of sight, and steering wheel covers can lessen the impact of arthritic joints while improving grip.
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"When an ache or pain begins hindering driving ability, many older drivers are able to continue driving safely after making a few adjustments," says Elin Schold Davis, project coordinator of the American Occupational Therapy Association's Older Driver Initiative.
Staying behind the wheel can boost mental health. Previous research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that seniors who have stopped driving are almost two times more likely to suffer from depression and nearly five times more likely to enter a long-term care facility than those who keep driving.
CarFit, a community-based program aimed to help senior drivers better use vehicle features and technology, offers a quick professional vehicle check and recommendations for adjustments. Drivers can sign up for an event online here.
AAA's Smart Features for Older Drivers tool can also help identify inexpensive devices and vehicle features that optimize comfort and safety.