Technology has helped drivers in many ways, but with the good comes some negative consequences as well. This month we touch on some important tips regarding technological advances,” as well as offering advice to drivers who may need to adjust their driving habits due to the inevitable decline of their senses brought on by aging.

High Technology Demands Safe Driving

We live and work in a world rich with technology and instant replays. Industry scrutiny has been made easier with cell phone cameras, GPS and other technological advances that demand drivers consider the following:

  • All Black Car Medallion Taxi and Livery drivers are instantly identifiable by license plates, medallion numbers and base ID stickers.
  • Many intersections have red light cameras.
  • Many streets are equipped with police surveillance cameras to record traffic and pedestrian activity.
  • Be mindful that everything you do while operating your vehicle may be recorded by pedestrians and/or other vehicle occupants. Keeping this in mind, it is essential that all drivers take special pride in their work and represent themselves in a safe and professional manner at all times. Be courteous to your peers, all other motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists – and go out of your way to yield to vehicles with out-of-state license plates as their drivers may not be familiar with the area. Anyone can be a potential passenger, so do everything you can during your work shift to present a positive image of yourself and the industry you represent.
  • Remember the general public has easy access to register complaints.

How to Improve Seniors’ Driving Skills

(By Dale Buss, Contributor)
The dangers posed by senior drivers – combined with the difficulty of figuring out when they have reached the point of posing a risk – are spurring unprecedented efforts to come up with solutions. These initiatives to improve seniors’ driving skills include more self-limited driving, improvement classes, vision adjustments, physical rehabilitation, cognitive-skills enhancement and tougher licensing laws. Here’s a look at some of what researchers, insurers, not-for-profit associations, health-care organizations, government agencies and seniors are doing in each area.

Self-Limited Driving:Many members of the over-65 generation limit their own driving as they recognize some deterioration in their abilities. Typical self-limiting includes avoiding crowded thoroughfares and taking alternate routes, though this makes trips longer. Seniors also try to find intersections with protected left turns.

  • Some elderly drivers choose to give up driving altogether in the interests of their own and others’ safety; more than 600,000 drivers age 70 or older do just that each year, according to a 2002 study published in the American Journal of Public Health.
  • A surprising surge in self-limitation seems to be behind a 21% improvement in the number of crash deaths among drivers 70 and older, in a new Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study of the 10 years that ended in 2006. The declines were most dramatic for drivers 80 and older. If the fatal-crash involvement rates for older drivers had mirrored the trend for younger ones in the same time period, the Institute said, nearly 7,000 additional older drivers might have been in fatal crashes.
  • The older a driver is, and the more physically and cognitively impaired he or she is, the more seniors tend to self-limit driving, according to Institute interviews that accompanied the broader study.
  • The willingness of many aging motorists to regulate themselves prevents countless accidents. In fact, seniors’ tendency to self-limit is one of the main reasons that insurance rates are generally only slightly higher for drivers 75 or older than for the generation just beneath them – and far lower than rates for teenage drivers. Another reason insurers don’t see older drivers as a particular liability is that they tend to injure themselves more than others in accidents.

Driving Improvement Classes:Older drivers are finding more ways to gauge their own effectiveness behind the wheel. The American Automobile Association Foundation, for instance, has an online self-rating formfor drivers 55 and older. Several other organizations are making similar resources available on the web.

  • More seniors also are taking it upon themselves to improve their driving by attending self-help classes. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), for example, offers a driver safety programat sites around the country and online. The eight-hour class is for drivers 50 and older. Typically, participants can take their certificate of completion and show it to their insurance company to get a discount of 5-10% on their premiums, according to Jack Stegeman, a volunteer AARP instructor in Madison Heights, Mich.
  • One emphasis of the classes is to urge seniors to step up to their own responsibility for driving. For instance, “We don’t talk about ‘accidents,’ but rather about ‘crashes,’ because an accident just says, ‘It’s too bad it happened,’” says Stegeman, a retired schoolteacher. “A ‘crash’ is where someone didn’t see something or reacted inappropriately, and we need to get class members thinking that way.”
  • Another theme stresses “taking a little more time to make decisions as you drive, because that’s how our bodies functions as we get older,” says Nancy Stegeman, a retired nurse who teaches with her husband.

Vision Adjustments:The declining vision of seniors is the most difficult aspect of driving to mitigate. “Ninety to 95% of the information you get in driving is visual information,” said Dr. Philip Hessburg, president of the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology. Yet many vision-impaired older people take a big swipe at the problem simply by declining to drive at twilight or later. Others realize major improvements after having cataract or other eye surgeries. And some researchers believe that more diligent instruction of senior drivers actually can help them use their vision more effectively, even if they can’t restore their eyes physically.

  • “A common problem with seniors is that they fail to scan appropriately by moving their eyes completely through the driving environment,” said Richard Backs, a psychology professor who is developing a visual attention test for drivers at Central Michigan University. Seniors may spend too long focusing on changing lanes, for example, risking an accident by not shifting their attention to traffic approaching in their rearview mirror. Some seniors invest in the handful of devices that have proven to improve senior road vision, such as special eyeglasses that reduce glare and have a telescopic function. “But even with any of those, you really have to work with your doctor and maybe a low-vision specialist and with a driving instructor,” said Judy Scott, director of the Center on Vision Loss for the American Foundation for the Blind.

Physical Rehabilitation:The elderly can actually improve their driving skills and help stave off decline through various types of exercise and physical therapy.

  • New research by the Yale University School of Medicine, for example, found that even a moderate regimen of physical therapy specifically designed for the task – only 15 minutes of exercise a day – could significantly improve flexibility, coordination and speed of movement of extremities in drivers 70 years old and older, who were afflicted with various limitations such as arthritis. The success of the therapy, in turn, is projected to improve driving performance by at least an 8% lower crash occurrence over two years.

“Our hope was to make small improvements in several areas of physical functioning that, taken together, were meaningful, and that’s essentially what we found,” said Dr. Richard Marottoli, associate professor of medicine at Yale. “Next, we want to look at whether people who might not yet have these limitations could relatively easily incorporate some of these activities and prevent [driving] problems down the road.”

Article by Bertram Merling

Bertram Merling is the Loss Control Coordinator for the Hereford Insurance Company.

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