MI unveils online help for aging drivers, their families

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — In a state that already boasts the 8th largest senior population in the nation, people age 65 and older are also Michigan’s fastest growing demographic.

The number of licensed drivers in that age group in Michigan has increased 30 percent in the last decade.

Against that backdrop, state leaders on Monday unveiled a new website full of resources to help aging drivers stay on the road as long as safely possible.

“In our car-centric world, seniors don’t want to lose their independence,” Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson said. “Our goal is to help aging drivers develop strategies that will keep them driving for as long as it is safe to do so. The website also provides options and resources that can ease the transition when the time comes for an aging loved one to give up the car keys.”

Among its features, the website, www.michigan.gov/agingdriver, shows elderly drivers how to assess their own driving skills, identify problems that might impact their driving ability, find classes designed to help senior drivers and develop strategies to allow them to continue driving safely as long as possible.

The site, Safe Drivers Smart Options; Keys to Lifelong Mobility, also helps seniors and their caregivers connect with critical resources in their communities, like available public transportation.

“People plan for retirement in a number of different ways,” explained Kim Lariviere, senior mobility specialist for the Michigan Department of Transportation.

“But they don’t plan for the fact that at some point they’re probably not going to be able to drive anymore.”

Lariviere said that most people will outlive their ability to drive safely by six to 10 years.

The website provides guidance for families and caregivers who are worried about an aging driver’s ability and are struggling with how to approach what can be a very sensitive subject.

“No one should have to be the bad guy,” said Lariviere. “Everybody should look at this as, ‘we want you to be safe. We don’t want you to hurt yourself, and we don’t want you to hurt anyone else either.'”

The website was developed over two years by a coalition that included MDOT, the Secretary of State’s Office, Michigan State Police and several private organizations.

“When MDOT initiated the idea for an older driver safety strategy in 2013, we knew it had to be a joint effort with a variety of partners,” said David Wresinski, Transportation Planning Bureau director for MDOT. “These include health care, social services, and public safety officials. It’s a great example of government and non-governmental organizations working together.”

Partner organizations included AARP Michigan, AAA, Michigan Trauma Coalition, and Michigan Academy of Family Physicians. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute also provided resources for the website.

The unveiling of the site was timed to coincide with the start of Older Driver Safety Awareness Week.

“We’re very proud of this latest tool to help motorists stay safe on the road,” Secretary of State Johnson said. “This website takes a challenging and difficult topic and makes it easy to get the answers you and your family need to keep an aging loved one safe and mobile.”

The website also offers resources for health care professionals, law enforcement personnel and other professional caregivers who interact regularly with senior citizens who might be struggling to maintain their mobility safely.

The 2010 census showed that 14 percent of Michigan residents are age 65 or older, and this age group is the fastest growing demographic in the state.

According to the Secretary of State’s Office, records show that there are currently 1,382,133 licensed drivers age 65 or older. That’s compared to 1,049,582 license holders of the same ages in 2005.

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