News & Info

Safer Driving with Occupational Therapy

Older African American couple driving in convertible together

Earlier this month was Older Driver Safety Awareness Week, with a focus on making the roads safer for older generations of drivers. Really, it’s an important aim any time of year and there are tons of resources to help, including our own occupational therapists.

Over 48 million U.S. drivers on the road are 65 or older; sadly, every day sees 20 older adults killed and just under 540 injured in crashes. There are many factors that that can lead to car accidents for older adults. Normal age-related changes in vision, reaction time, and reasoning can make driving more challenging; medications and diseases can also impact skills.

But these issues don’t mean that once a person turns 65 they should hang up their keys as well as their love for the open road; it just means planning needs to occur.

Transportation planning explores possible solutions for mobility needs and is tailored for each individual. After all, the aging process is different for everyone, so the needs will be as well.

Occupational therapists are experts at helping clients with essential and everyday living activities like driving. Their science-based knowledge lets them understand progressive conditions and life changes that can affect driving. Supported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation, the American Occupational Therapists Association promotes occupational therapy as a key element in driving safety as well as preventing injury and driving disability.

Here are some of the ways occupational therapists are helping those 65 and older stay on the road:

  • Compare a person’s performance skills and challenges to those needed for safe driving
  • Ensure drivers have “CarFit,” assessing how well a car fits the driver as well as taking actions to improve the fit, like sitting at least 10 inches away from the steering wheel or positioning the feet properly
  • Recommend appropriate adaptations to increase safety; for example, adding wider mirrors to help visibility in the case of decreased neck mobility
  • Train on how to use adaptations, such as working prescribed hand-driving controls instead of relying on foot pedals
  • Develop trip routes that include travel only during daylight hours, on well-known routes, during off-peak hours, using right hand turns, etc.
  • Counsel on transitioning to different mobility options for continued community engagement when future changes with age occur
  • Help start conversations about mobility planning

Elin Schold Davis, an occupational therapy practitioner specializing in community mobility and says, “The most frequent request I get is ‘What do I say?’ if I’m asked about driving, or people share worries for a loved one. What we know is there is no single resource or test that fits for all…Occupational therapy practitioners will explore and find solutions that may assist you.”

If you want help finding solutions for driving as you age, reach out to CPT here.

Sources: AOTA; CDC; CarFit