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Identifying Older Drivers at Risk of Crashes

Occupational therapists may be of help, researchers say

FRIDAY, March 5, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Occupational therapists can play a key role in identifying older drivers who are at risk for crashes, a new study suggests.

University of Florida researchers analyzed crashes involving 5,345 drivers aged 65 and older that were included in the 2005 Florida Traffic Crash Records Database. The mean age of older drivers in crashes was 76.08 years, and 54.3 percent were males. Older female drivers were more likely to suffer crash-related injuries (44 percent) than male drivers (29 percent).

The probability of crash-related injuries was 50 percent in crashes caused by errors in lane maintenance, yielding and gap acceptance (choosing an appropriately safe time and/or spacing distance to cross in front of oncoming traffic), followed by speed regulation errors (34 percent), vehicle positioning errors (25 percent), and adjustment to stimuli errors (21 percent).

"This research provided a framework for classifying violations by types of driving errors. This is useful information for occupational therapy practitioners and policy makers. For example, when reviewing the performance patterns of older adults, occupational therapy practitioners should review driving history or violation records," said study lead author Sherrilene Classen, an assistant professor in the University of Florida occupational therapy department, in a news release from the American Occupational Therapy Association.

"For example, a violation of failed to obey a required traffic control device may be interpreted, based on our results, as potential for having difficulty with gap acceptance," Classen said. "Further, more focused testing of client factors, performance skills, activity demands or contextual demands underlying such a driving error may be necessary. Policies on driving ability testing for licensure may also benefit from this information."

The study is published in the March/April issue of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy.

"Occupational therapy practitioners can play a major role in identifying drivers at risk," Elin Schold Davis, coordinator of the American Occupational Therapy Association's Older Driver Initiative, said in the news release. "Through appropriate screening and driving evaluation and rehabilitation, we can help identify unsafe drivers, making recommendations to those who need to stop driving, provide intervention strategies for those with remedial potential and assist others to optimize their driving skills that may be impacted by age-related conditions."

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about older drivers.

SOURCE: American Occupational Therapy Association, news release, March 1, 2010
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