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New report shows decline in number of older drivers involved in fatal crashes

SACRAMENTO – A report issued last month by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says the rate of older drivers involved in fatal crashes has shown a significant decline over the past 10 years - down 37 percent from 1997 to 2008.

That trend is also reflected in California, where a recent California DMV study indicates that fatal crash involvement of drivers over the age of 70 has dropped from 31 percent in 1980 to 13 percent in 2008.

Seniors are now better educated about personal health issues, their driving skills and the inherent risks involved in operating motor vehicles, says DMV director, George Valverde. “The California DMV takes senior driving issues very seriously, and we’ve led the way by creating useful and innovative programs to keep older drivers behind the wheel as long as they can safely do so.”

Valverde said one of the most important aspects of the department’s ongoing outreach to senior drivers is providing accurate information. DMV created Senior Driver, a comprehensive section on the department’s Internet site in 2003. The site is geared toward older drivers and their families - and provides links to a number of other websites that deal with issues of vital importance such as alternative transportation, the latest medical and wellness issues, driving skills assessments and much more.

The Senior Ombudsman’s Office, created in 2006, is one of the most unique older- driver outreach programs in the nation and handles more than 3,000 inquiries annually. It provides improved and more personalized communication to the senior community throughout California, as well as assisting older drivers who experience problems maneuvering through the system. The office has five ombudsmen who are strategically located throughout the state.

“The office ensures that if older drivers face some sort of action against their license, they are treated with absolute fairness and impartiality by our department,” said Charley Fenner, the department’s Senior Ombudsman.

The Senior Ombudsman Office does extensive outreach to diverse groups such as senior centers, law enforcement, medical care providers, community service groups, state and federal traffic safety task forces and internal DMV training classes.

In addition, the department created the Senior Guide for Safe Driving tailored for older drivers. It was developed by DMV in collaboration with senior organizations to provide valuable information for aging drivers regarding medical, physical and emotional changes that may affect their driving skills.

DMV is also an active participant in the development and implementation of the State Highway Safety Plan (SHSP), which has a specific aging-driver component. In the past year, SHSP has created a Mobility Action Plan for seniors which includes travel training for older drivers who might be leery of using mass transit systems, training about dementia issues for health care providers and improving the visibility and readability of traffic signs.


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