The issue of older drivers has been in the news a lot the past several weeks. We all want the same thing keeping our roads safe for ourselves and our loved ones.
Each of us is responsible for monitoring our own driving skills and abilities and for monitoring the driving of our family members young and old. Unsafe drivers should not be driving. But age by itself doesn't cause accidents.
A report released in June by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), refutes stubborn stereotypes about older drivers. The study found that crash rates for older drivers dropped from 1997-2008, despite the increase in older Americans behind the wheel due to America's aging population.
The new IIHS report reinforces what safety experts already know: age by itself doesn't cause car crashes. Most older drivers are safe drivers and exercise personal responsibility. For example, the report found that many older drivers were limiting their own driving at night and on high-speed roads.
There is no test that predicts which drivers are likely to have a crash. The most effective way to keep unsafe drivers off the road is in-person license renewal. AARP supports regular in-person license renewal for drivers of all ages. People should renew their licenses regularly and in person and signs that a person's driving might be impaired should be identified and evaluated.
There are several established programs that help older North Dakotans refresh their driving skills and include materials that may help them evaluate their fitness to drive.
The AARP Driver Safety Program holds classes across the state. Trained AARP volunteers conduct this four-hour class on a regular basis. Upcoming classes in Minot are on Oct. 6, Nov. 3, and Dec. 1 at the Parker Center. You can register at (www.aarp.org/drive), or by calling Curtis Herman, the Minot region Driver Safety Program coordinator, at 837-8006.
AARP offers the driver safety course online as well. You can take the class at your own pace in the convenience of your home. For more information about the online course, or for a complete classroom schedule, go to (www.aarp.org/drive).
AARP has partnered with the North Dakota Highway Patrol to conduct "We Need to Talk: Family Conversations with Older Drivers." This 90-minute seminar helps family members learn how to have productive conversations with older drivers about their driving or even about hanging up the keys. You can contact the state AARP office in Bismarck (1-866-554-5383) or any regional Highway Patrol office for more information and to schedule this 90-minute seminar in your community.
People are living longer. Transportation is especially vital in rural areas where people need to travel for basic needs like groceries and medical care. To hang up the keys, they need alternative ways to get around. Those alternatives include improved transit services and driving services. We need to ensure that those who choose to no longer drive have alternative transportation options that allow them to remain productive, happy and connected to their family, friends and community.
In the meantime, we all need to take responsibility to keep up our driving skills and monitoring our loved ones' driving old, young, parents or adult children to keep our streets and highways safe for everyone.
Lyle Halvorson, of Bismarck, is associate director of AARP North Dakota.