Surge of aging drivers poses new challenge on the road

WASHINGTON — Encouraging older loved ones to give up their car keys can be one of the most difficult discussions for families.

With aging baby boomers, data show that those conversations will be happening more frequently in the coming years. By the year 2030, more than 50 million eligible drivers will be over 65.

The nation's aging driving population brought together the government’s top auto-safety experts Thursday in Washington for a meeting by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Advocates and government officials were looking to find the best ways to educate people on the challenges that older drivers face, including understanding if their keys need to be taken away.

"It's a very difficult decision, and a lot of people don’t want to make that decision," said Harris Blackwood, of Georgia Governor's Office of Highway Safety. "We want to make sure that those on the road are safe, have cognizant abilities and are not endangering themselves or others."

Blackwood said many states face difficulties in expanding transportation options for non-drivers outside urban areas.

“The big concern is making sure they have an alternative form of transportation, and in Georgia, unfortunately, we don’t have (many) intrastate transportation alternatives,” said Blackwood. “It’s not a Georgia problem, it’s an everywhere problem.”

Auto group AAA says older drivers are among the safest on the roads. Data shows that they wear seat belts and usually do not speed, but they remain second only to teenagers in the number of fatal crashes each years.

Jonathan Adkins at the Governors Highway Safety Association said intersection crashes are a major issue for older drivers. He said the solution could be found in embracing new technology, including ride-sharing options like Uber and Lyft, or eventually autonomous driving vehicles.

“Driving is freedom, especially for generations in the past,” Adkins said. “Technology can provide a lot of the solutions and help us get around and do it safely.”

The meeting of auto safety experts was held at the Department of Transportation as part of a discussion on the future of transportation.