Safety Education Programs Don’t Make Elderly Drivers Safer

A new study has shown that educational programs designed to assist elderly drivers in improving their driving skills might not make them safer or prevent future accidents.

Research shows that the 60-year-old drivers are among the most likely to be involved in a car crash per mile. They also have the fastest growing driver population.

Many elderly drivers have turned to driver education programs to help them drive safely. These programs are becoming increasingly popular, but researchers have not yet found any studies that show their effectiveness in reducing accidents and increasing driver safety.

A new study has shown that Cadillac’s version of a safety education program did not reduce crashes in cars among elderly drivers at high risk who have vision impairments.

Cynthia Owsley PhD, MSPH, researcher in ophthalmology at University of Alabama at Birmingham, says that these programs are popular with older people.

Owsley presented today the results of the study at an American Medical Association briefing about patient communication and adherence. These results are published in the April issue of American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Senior drivers aren’t safer because they have more education.

Two previous studies also showed that education programs do not reduce collisions among elderly drivers. However, this study was limited to high-risk drivers who had been in a car accident within the past year and also had vision impairments.

This study included 403 people over 60 years old who were licensed drivers in Alabama. They drove at least five days a week, or more, and had one or both of the following vision impairments: problems with detail vision or visual processing speed that causes a delay in processing visual information or making decisions about it.

Randomly, participants were assigned to either an eye exam alone or an eye-exam plus a tailored educational intervention that encouraged safe driving.

Two one-on-one sessions were held to discuss the individual’s driving habits, lifestyle and vision problems. Discussions also covered maneuvers and settings that were difficult or increased the risk of collision.

Participants were also taught strategies to avoid driving in these situations by the program, such as:

Doing errands requiring driving during daylight hours

Avoiding the most popular routes

Drive at non-rush hour times

Avoid making plans for trips in bad weather

You might consider routes that allow you to take three right turns instead of one left.

Participants were asked to write a contract detailing their personal goals and ways they could change their driving habits at the end of the session.

Researchers found no difference in car accidents per mile between those who participated in the education program, and the other groups after two years of monitoring.

Owsley says that there is no evidence to support a safety benefit of this program, as in other studies. “However, in terms of behavior it seems that they were successful in changing their behaviors.

Owsley states that elderly drivers who participated in the education program said they were more attentive to their driving skills, avoided challenging situations and cut down on driving time.

Owsley believes that behavioral changes made by participants may not have resulted in a lower car crash rate, since crashes are rare.

Even though the educational program failed to reduce collisions during the two year follow-up, researchers believe it may still have long-term benefits in that older drivers will be more aware of their driving habits. Owsley explained that the study showed that older drivers are more likely to adopt these new behaviors.

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Updated 01/25/22