AAA Foundation: Older Americans extending time behind the wheel

Online Staff Report

According to a 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, and this new research shows an increased automobility of older drivers with travel patterns indicating about a 20 percent increase in trips and a 33 increase in miles traveled between 1990 and 2009.

While upward trends indicate greater mobility for the silver tsunami, the “Understanding Older Drivers: An Examination of Medical Conditions, Medication Use and Travel Behaviors” report reveals that 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.

This level of medication use does raise concerns, yet evidence indicates seniors are fairly cautious,” said Beth Mosher, director of public affairs for AAA Chicago. “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 also reveals gender differences when it comes to medication use behind the wheel. Older women who 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 the following:

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 Mosher. “Drivers are encouraged to discuss the confidential results with their doctor or pharmacist to learn how to mitigate possible crash risks.”

To access all the free resources AAA offers to senior drivers, visit

The AAA Foundation study primarily analyzed the most recent data from two national databases — the 2009 National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) and the 2011 National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS).

AAA Chicago is part of The Auto Club Group (ACG), the second-largest AAA club in North America. ACG and its affiliates provide membership, travel, insurance and financial services offerings to approximately 8.5 million members across 11 states and two U.S. territories, including Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands; most of Illinois, Minnesota and a portion of Indiana. ACG belongs to the national AAA federation with nearly 53 million members in the United States and Canada. Its mission includes protecting and advancing freedom of mobility and improving traffic safety.

Posted May 8, 2014

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