Much is written about the danger young drivers face on the road. Much less is reported about motorists at the other end of the spectrum. That needs to change with a focus on an increasingly aging population that includes more and more drivers over 65.

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A new study shows South Carolina ranked No. 9 in 2017 for most car accidents with drivers 65 and older per 100,000 people. Total traffic fatalities in 2017 increased 22% for drivers 65 and older, according to the study by TheSeniorList.com using data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Older drivers accounted for 14% of fatal accidents.

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Today, 42 million Americans 65 and older are licensed drivers, which represents an increase of nearly 60% since 1999.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has found that nearly 83% of older drivers report never speaking to a family member or physician about their driving ability. Of the small percentage of families having the often-difficult conversation, 15% do so after a crash or traffic infraction has occurred -- which could be too late.

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The most commonly cited reasons for having the discussion include:

  • Driving safety concerns (falling asleep while driving, trouble staying in lane): 65%.
  • Health issues: 22%.
  • Driving infraction or crash: 15%.
  • Planning for the future: 7%.
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Waiting to talk with older drivers is increasingly not an option. The danger on the road is real – and due to their fragility, older drivers are at greater risk of death or injury if involved in a crash.

AAA recommends that when talking to an older driver, families should:

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  • Start early and talk often: Be positive, be supportive and focus on ways to help keep them safe when behind the wheel, including other forms of transportation available to older drivers.
  • Avoid generalizations: Do not jump to conclusions about an older driver’s skills or abilities.
  • Speak one-on-one: Keep the discussion between you and the older driver. Inviting the whole family to the conversation can create feelings of alienation or anger.
  • Focus on the facts: Stick to information you know, like a medical condition or medication regimen that might make driving unsafe. Do not accuse an older driver of being unsafe or assume that driving should be stopped altogether.
  • Plan together: Allow the older driver to play an active role in developing the plan for driving retirement.

Keeping older adults on the road as long as they can drive safely is as vital to their well-being as getting them off the road when their driving days are over is essential to their safety and that of others.

A person remaining behind the wheel beyond the time when he or she can drive safely is a terrible disservice to the person – and a great danger on highways and roads.

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