Older Driver Data: More Driving, More Prescription Drug Use

New report from AAA Foundation reveals increase in commuting, travel and medications; older motorists urged to regulate their travel

Never mind the cliché of the elderly lady who only drives to church on Sundays. New research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows a big jump in older drivers who are still working, commuting and traveling. At the same time, most of these drivers also report using multiple medications. Are they safe? The AAA Foundation research has some interesting insights into how older drivers can balance an active lifestyle and health issues.

According to the new report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, older Americans are extending their time behind the wheel compared to previous generations. For example, 84 percent of Americans 65 and older held a driver’s license in 2010 compared to barely half in the early 1970s. Today, one in six drivers on U. S. roads are ages 65 and older. The research also shows about a 20 percent increase in trips and a 33 increase in miles travelled between 1990 and 2009.

At the same time, 90 percent of older drivers also use prescription medications with two-thirds taking multiple medications. Previous Foundation research has shown that combinations of medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, can result in an impairment in safe driving ability. The new information underscores the importance for older drivers to regulate their own behavior and determine if their medications will affect their safety.

“This level of medication use does raise concerns, yet evidence indicates seniors are fairly cautious,” said AAA Foundation President and CEO Peter Kissinger. “In fact, these findings show that older drivers using medications are more likely to regulate their driving –reducing daily travel, avoiding driving at night or driving fewer days per week.”

The report, called Understanding Older Drivers: An Examination of Medical Conditions, Medication Use and Travel Behaviors, also reveals gender differences when it comes to medication use behind the wheel. Older women that use medications are more likely to regulate their driving compared to men and, even without a medical condition, female drivers drive less than their male counterparts with a medical condition.

Additional key highlights from the report include:

· 25 percent of men and 18 percent of women remain in the workforce after age 65, resulting in more than double the work-related commutes for drivers 65 and older compared to 20 years ago.

· 68 percent drivers age 85 or older report driving five or more days per week.

· Three-quarters of drivers ages 65 and older with a medical condition report reduced daily driving.

· Self-regulatory behavior, among those taking multiple medications or having a medical condition, declines with increasing income. Female drivers ages 65-69 with an annual income under $13,000 were 62 percent more likely to restrict nighttime driving than women with incomes over $70,000.

Knowing that medication use is very high among senior drivers, the AAA Foundation and AAA developed confidential, educational tools such as Roadwise Rx to help seniors and their families understand common side-effects of prescription and over-the-counter medications, herbal supplements and foods.

“AAA’s Roadwise Rx is an online tool that generates personalized feedback about how these interactions between prescription and over-the-counter medicines and herbal supplements can impact safety behind the wheel,” said Jenny M. Robinson, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. To access all the free resources, visit AAA.com/SeniorDriving.