BARTOW – Florida leads the nation with the highest percentage of residents who are seniors. What Florida doesn’t want is to lead the nation with is seniors involved in deadly auto accidents.
That’s a top reason why the state just issued its new Florida Guide for Aging Drivers handbook, designed specifically for aging drivers – and filled with helpful tips on how those past retirement age can operate a motor vehicle in their golden years even more safely.
It’s designed for anyone old enough to have been around when the Beatles released their hit song “Drive My Car” — and who still presume they’re fit enough to continue operating one.
“We just got that released from Tallahassee, and they’re asking all the district offices to distribute the information,” said Lauren Hatchell, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Transportation’s District One in Bartow, which covers Polk County.
As drivers get older, their sight and reflexes can slow down – skills that are vital to safely operating a motor vehicle, said Gail Holley, the research manager of FDOT’s Safe Mobility for Life program.
“Most people experience a steady decline in some of the skills needed to safely drive as we get older,” Holley said.
This effort, though, is not about pulling drivers off the road when they reach a certain age, but simply giving them useful advice to help thosae drivers navigate the roads in the safest possible manner, she said.
The aging process works differently in different individuals, Holley added, and FDOT understands that.
“These changes do not affect all drivers at the same age or in the same way,” Holley said, but added, “It is important for everyone to understand the impact that aging can have on their driving, and learn the warning signs and resources that are available to them so they can make the transition when driving may no longer be a safe option.”
The guide is designed to help aging drivers strike a balance, Holly said, between safety and their continued need for independence. FDOT is hoping that people who pick up and read the guide will take the time to consider how their driving abilities have been impacted by the aging process.
Likewise, Holly said, FDOT hopes seniors are inspired by the guide to take steps to improve their driving skills, explore other transportation options such as local bus service, and start making a plan for retirement from driving if that becomes necessary sometime in the future.
It’s not meant to pull aging motorists off the roads, Hatchell said.
“That wouldn’t be the intent of the department,” she said. “My grandparents are well into their 90s, and some of the best drivers I know. It doesn’t have to be age that causes you to be a bad driver. We have teenages who shouldn’t be driving. This is just some helpful hints to help them stay good, alert, defensive drivers.”
The Florida Guide for Aging Drivers is a book available for free to Florida’s senior drivers, and it was created by the Florida Safe Mobility for Life Coalition. That’s a group comprised of professionals from 28 organizations, who have a Web site promoting safe driving among seniors. The guidebook was created to give aging drivers a comprehensive resource with the most up-to-date information available.
“Florida leads the nation with 17 percent of our population 65 years and older,” the coalition notes on its Web site. “As the number of residents continues to grow, Florida will remain number 1 with 27.1 percent of our population projected to be 65-plus in 2030, compared to 19.7 percent for the rest of the nation.”
The Safe and Mobile Seniors site is designed to be a virtual “one stop shop” for transportation safety and mobility information for drivers and pedestrians 65 years and older living in Florida. Developed through FDOT’s aging road user program, “This site provides Floridians easy access to information and resources in an effort to improve the safety, access and mobility of our growing aging population,” the coalition notes.
Now the guidebook goes a step further, and allows seniors to read up on safe driving tips, licensing information, lists of resources, and community contacts for every county in the state.
“Basically, the guide offers just about everything an aging driver needs to be more proactive about staying safe on the road,” Safe and Mobile Seniors notes, while adding that the book is “just the right size for the car’s glove box.”
To learn more about ordering the book, log on to www.dot.state.fl.us or email email@example.com.
Sometime in the fall, Hatchell said, FDOT’s District 1 office would likely find ways to promote this book.
“We do not have any events we are planning on hosting or attending right now,” she said. “As we get closer to the season when we start to gets snowbirds coming down, we’ll start doing some stuff then. We do have those handbook hard copies available here at the office, so if someone is unable to download them online, we do have thme here for anyone who would want to pick them up.”
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