HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The Pennsylvania departments of Transportation (PENNDOT), Aging (PDA), and the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP), along with the AARP hosted an event on Tuesday to highlight challenges faced by older drivers.
In recognition of Older Driver Safety Awareness Week, PennDOT, PDA, PSP, and the AARP joined at The Manor at Oakridge, a Holiday by Atria community in Harrisburg, to discuss the challenges that older drivers can face on the road.
“Mobility is essential to quality of life at any age,” said Kurt Myers, PennDOT Deputy Secretary for Driver and Vehicle Services. “Many older drivers have a lifetime of valuable driving experience to draw from, and PennDOT continually seeks to balance the safety of our roadways with the need for independence and autonomy.”
According to PennnDOT, about 25% of Pennsylvania’s 9.1 million licensed drivers are 65 and older. In the year 2021, there were more than 19,700 crashes that involved at least one driver who was aged 65 or older. These crashes resulted in over 300 fatalities. This represents about 17% of all crashes and about 25% of all fatalities.
“As Pennsylvania’s aging population continues to grow, the Wolf Administration is committed to ensuring that older adults have the resources they need to remain active in and connected to their communities,” said Secretary of Aging Robert Torres. “Driver safety awareness is a big part of that picture and if older adults need to make adjustments, accessible and available transportation alternatives become key to getting around. Pennsylvania is fortunate that our lottery proceeds help to fund these alternative services.”
At the meeting, PennDOT, PDA, PSP, and AARP provided information to help older Pennsylvanians extend their years on the road. They also provided these drivers with recommendations for other transportation options.
Seniors who aren’t looking to drive can take advantage of the network of shared-ride services that Pennsylvania offers. This free transportation program allows citizens who are 65 or older to ride for free on local and fixed routes whenever the service is operating. During 2020 to 2021, there were 1.7 million Senior Shared Rides, according to PennDOT.
PennDOT has also recently developed an online tool called Find My Ride. This tool helps older drivers to access free ride services online. Find My Ride allows transit agencies to process applications faster, so that users can access their benefits more quickly.
“Along with the unique challenges already faced by older drivers, winter weather conditions, longer nights, and heavy holiday traffic create challenges for drivers of all ages,” said Lieutenant Adam Reed, Director of the Communications Office with the Pennsylvania State Police. “Before getting behind the wheel be sure you are up to date on eye exams and understand how your prescribed medications could affect your driving. Remember to buckle up every time!”
PennDOT recommends that older drivers and their families work together to identify issues that may affect driving. It can be important to help family members form a course of action and plan for when it’s time to hang up the keys.
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Signs that it may be time to limit or stop driving include the following:
- Feeling uncomfortable, fearful, or nervous when driving
- Unexplained dents/scrapes on the car, fences, mailboxes, or garage doors
- Frequently getting lost and frequent “close calls” (almost crashing)
- Slower response times, particularly to unexpected situations
- Difficulty paying attention to signs or staying in the lane of traffic
- Trouble judging gaps at intersections or highway entrance/exit ramps
If an older driver has reported their medical condition to PennDOT, the Wolf Administration recommends older drivers and their loved ones to review PennDOT’s Seniors Driving Safely publication series. This series offers guidance to families and healthcare providers.
PennDOT has provided safe-driving habits for any age, however they are most beneficial to older drivers:
- Plan ahead: lengthy car trips should be made during daylight. Morning trips may be the best options because most people aren’t as tired as they are in the afternoon
- Don’t drive in rush-hour traffic if you can avoid it. Plan your trips after 9 a.m. or before 5 p.m. Know what roads are most congested and avoid them
- When driving long distances, especially in the winter, call ahead for weather and road condition updates
- Look far down the road before while making adjustments, that way you can see if there are other vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists, and animals
- Maintain a safe speed
- Keep a safe distance from the vehicle ahead of you. The PA Driver’s manual advises that you keep a 4-second gap between you and the vehicle in front of you