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By Johnson, Mary | Generations, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

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Johnson, Mary, Generations


Older drivers are in the news again these days, with spectacular crashes garnering heavy media coverage and the usual round of calls for legislation to get elders off the road. But are older drivers really more dangerous than other age groups? Who should be tested? How? And to what end? Given the primacy of the automobile in this country, how will those who can no longer drive meet their transportation needs? Such questions are at the heart of the complex topic examined by this issue of Generations, "The Mobile Elder," as our guest editors are well aware. They have been in the vanguard of thoughtful, comprehensive research and education about getting around in later life.

Jeff Finn is a communications consultant on the faculty of American University in Washington, D.C., most recently working on older-driver issues for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) with the American Society on Aging and others. Harvey Sterns is a professor of psychology and director of the Institute for Life-Span Development and Gerontology at the University of Akron who has focused on issues related to driving and transit for more than twenty years and who now serves on the Committee on Safe Mobility of Older Persons of the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences.

Health and aging have been long-term themes for Jeff Finn. He is the former senior communications advisor for the Medicare and Medicaid programs and has served as director of communications for the American Occupational Therapy Association and associate director of communications for the American Hospital Association. He has published widely on related topics in such newspapers as The Washington Post, Chicago Sun Times, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch and is the coauthor of the book Medical Ethics.

"I always look at the decision-making and communication aspects of an issue," says Finn. "When NHTSA decided they wanted to develop a program agenda in the area of older drivers, they asked ASA and me to develop recommendations for implementing a comprehensive social marketing campaign. The goal of the campaign was to communicate with all of those involved, from elders and their families to aging-services and healthcare providers to policymakers and the broader community, about the importance of older driver safety and mobility for older people and about what can be done to keep older adults connected to their communities. This makes for vibrant, healthy communities for everyone."

Finn is currently working with ASA on implementing two aspects of NHTSA's broader social marketing campaign on older drivers. One project-a pilot program being directed by the Academy for Educational Development-seeks to promote "community conversations" about older people and transportation.

"Our goal is to move communities from a reactionary 'take away the keys' approach toward older drivers to the more constructive 'how do we meet the needs of older adults in a dignified way that enables them to get where they need to go safely,'" says Finn. In the second project, ASA is developing a community resource educational toolkit to help build awareness in the aging network and health services about the continuum of transportation options for older adults and ways to contribute to appropriate and safe choices for elders and the community. Pilot tests of the toolkit are set to begin in five communities nationwide. …

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