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As People Age, How Long Is It Safe To Continue Driving?

Jack Wyrad, 92, is seen reflected on his side mirrors as he adjusts them befo...

Photo by Damian Dovarganes / AP

Above: Jack Wyrad, 92, is seen reflected on his side mirrors as he adjusts them before driving his GM Buick in Los Angeles in this file photo taken Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012.

People are living longer. By 2030, the U.S.Census Bureau projects older adults will outnumber children under the age of 18 for the first time in U.S. history.

The so-called “Gray Tsunami” has many implications that affect things like housing, healthcare and welfare. But, how does the aging driver affect you on the road? Doug Shupe with The Auto Club of Southern California said despite the myth, seniors are among the safest drivers.

“In reality, you know the myth of senior drivers being unsafe - that's exactly what it is a myth. In reality, senior drivers are some of the safest drivers out there. They're more likely to wear their seatbelt. They're less likely to text and drive. They're more likely to follow and obey the speed limits,” Shupe said.

When a senior driver is in an accident, however, they’re more likely to sustain significant injuries.

Shupe encourages adult children to have conversations with their older parents early before something happens.

RELATED: Life After Driving: How California Seniors Are Rethinking Getting Around

Reported by Maya Trabulsi

“You want to watch your senior driver to see if they are bumping into things as they pull into the driveway or backing out of things. You know, when they're pulling out of the driveway, are they getting honked at on the road?" he said. "Do you see them drifting from one lane to the other? Do they seem to be taking too long to respond to traffic signals like the light turning green? Those are indications that perhaps you want to start having that delicate conversation, but you want to do it at the right time."

Ken Druck, the author of “Raising An Aging Parent,” said giving up driving can be a smooth transition by starting early, starting small and talking often.

“Rather than it becoming a ‘well I'm not dead yet, leave me alone. It's none of your damn business and I'm handling that,’” Druck said. “So, how do we approach that, as it can be confounding. If it starts with respect and understanding and listening, then it becomes a real conversation.”

Druck suggested small gestures can make it more fun and entertaining, like volunteering to drive parents to their destinations. Try ridesharing services, like Lyft and Uber, together. Druck said maybe someone else would be better suited to step in and start the conversation.

RELATED: Two San Diego Women Launch National Ridesharing Service For The Elderly

“Because sometimes we're not the best person to talk to our parents," he said. "Sometimes we have a sister and she just has a better way. She has a better line of communication with our mom or dad, or they have a doctor they listen to that everything that the doctor says is gold."

It is critically important to not be afraid of presiding over their wellbeing, especially on behalf of their safety and the safety of the community in general, Druck said.

“You need to intervene. You need to step in with a tough-love approach and say, ‘Dad, I'm not going to let you do this. You're putting your life at risk and other people's lives at risk,'” he said.

Shupe said AAA wants drivers to stay behind the wheel for as long as safely possible, but for them to understand the changes in their bodies. He suggested talking about driving retirement at the same time as financial retirement.

“What happens when you get to that point where maybe it's not going to be safe for you to get behind the wheel?" he said. "What kind of options would you like to see in terms of transportation for yourself? Involve the senior driver, make it about them so that they can help make the decisions for themselves and in their own interest.”

Listen to this story by Maya Trabulsi.

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Photo of Maya Trabulsi

Maya Trabulsi
KPBS Evening Edition Anchor

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI'm the news anchor for Evening Edition, which airs live at 5 p.m. on weekdays. I also produce stories about our community, from stories that are obscure in nature to breaking news.

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