Driving is a key to independence from the moment we get our first license.
Most of us want to hold onto that key for as long as we safely can. Most older people are capable and have a lifetime of valuable driving experience. For these reasons, decisions about a person's ability to drive should never be based on age alone. However, changes in vision, physical fitness and reflexes may cause safety concerns. People who accurately assess these changes can adjust their driving habits so that they stay safe on the road, or choose other kinds of transportation.
While traffic fatalities have rapidly declined over the past decade, reductions involving older drivers have not been at the same rapid pace as in other age groups. The number of older drivers is increasing but many may be vulnerable behind the wheel, and the risk will increase if not addressed. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that if current fatality rates remain unchanged, there could be a three-fold increase in the number of older driver and occupant fatalities by 2020.
New Mexico is making great strides on older driver educational programming. The New Mexico Department of Transportation and Safer New Mexico Now are working together on a multi-year program for reducing the number of crashes, fatal, and nonfatal injuries involving older drivers. The overall goal is to prolong the time that seniors can drive safely. Educating stakeholders on the issues, accommodations and available resources is important to achieving that goal. During the first year of the project, we have gone from virtually no formal program to a tested and proven set of training materials for three large groups of stakeholders.