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September/October 2015 Issue

Giving up the keys can lead to increased health risks for seniors

Older adults who have stopped driving are almost two times more likely to suffer from depression and nearly five times as likely to enter a long-term care facility than those who remain behind the wheel, according to a report released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and Columbia University.

The study examined older adults who have permanently given up driving and the impact it has on their health and mental well-being. The importance of understanding the effects this lifestyle change has on older adults is essential, as the number of drivers aged 65 and older continues to increase in the United States with nearly 81 percent of the 39.5 million seniors in this age group still behind the wheel.

The report, Driving Cessation and Health Outcomes for Older Adults, examined declines in general health and physical, social, and cognitive functions in former drivers. With the cessation of driving, the study found:

  • Diminished productivity and low participation in daily activities outside of the home
  • Risk of depression nearly doubled
  • 51 percent reduction in the size of social networks over a 13-year period
  • Accelerated decline in cognitive ability over a 10-year period
  • Former drivers were five times as likely to be admitted to a long-term care facility

“Maintaining independence by continuing to drive safely is important to overall health and well-being,” said Peter Kissinger, President and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “When the decision is made to relinquish the keys, it is vital to mitigate the potential negative effects through participation in programs that allow seniors to remain mobile and socially connected.”

As a leading advocate for senior driver safety, AAA provides many resources for senior drivers, including a program that can help you stay on top of your fitness to drive. Roadwise Review Online is a free, confidential screening/self-assessment tool to help older drivers measure certain mental and physical abilities important for safe driving. In as little as 30 minutes, users can identify and get further guidance on the physical and mental skills that need improvement–all in the privacy of your own home.

AAA also advises seniors to plan early and practice getting around without driving. Building comfort and confidence in public transit, paratransit, volunteer driver programs, and helpful friends and family can dramatically change your view of stopping driving when the time comes.

For more information on all the free resources AAA offers to older drivers, visit

senior driver

By 2040, 20 percent of the population will be 65 and older, up from 13 percent in 2010.


AAA study illuminates the limitations of headlights

You may have thought that outrunning your headlights was a myth used to keep people from speeding, but new research from AAA has shown that it is possible for a vehicle to do just that.

AAA's automotive engineering team enlisted the help of the Automobile Club of Southern California's Automotive Research Center to compare the performance of halogen, high-intensity discharge, and light-emitting diode headlights to determine the illumination provided at both low- and high-beam settings. Their results showed that halogen headlights–found on more than 80 percent of vehicles on the road–are insufficient on low-beam settings when driving at highway speeds on roadways with no overhead lighting.

The math is simple: At 55 miles per hour, you need about 500 feet to perceive an obstacle, react to it, and safely stop your vehicle. AAA's research found that the most common halogen reflector lights illuminate only 300 feet on low beams. That leaves 200 feet of dark road where unseen obstacles can pose a hazard to drivers who have no time to react. Drivers of late-model vehicles equipped with high-intensity discharge (HID) have illumination up to 400 feet on low beams, and light-emitting diode (LED) lighting shines up to 450 feet.

Many highways are dotted with lights, but without that overhead illumination, high-beam headlights can improve sight distances for motorists by an average of 28 percent. AAA recommends drivers use high-beam settings where safety permits. Also, keep your headlights and windows clean.


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