Driving in Old Age: Liberty Mutual Tries to Jump-start Dialogue with ‘Age Suit’

Older couple Federal officials estimate that the elderly population (those 65 years or older) is about 40 million, by their latest count.

With the figure estimated to hit 72 million by 2030, more and more American families will be having (or trying to have) the conversation with elderly drivers about handing over their keys and giving up their driving privileges.

Liberty Mutual created its “age suit” with those conversations mind.

Profiled in a blog entry from The New York Times, the insurer’s “age suit” replicates the experience of driving in old age for those who haven’t quite made it there yet.

Blogger Benjamin Preston outlines what the suit entails:

  • Weights tied to the ends of arms and legs
  • Velcro straps squeezing the fingers
  • Braces on the neck and leg
  • Fake gut attached to the midsection
  • Nylon straps tying shoulders to the waist “so that it’s impossible to stand straight”

In addition, Preston said, the overall experience of the age suit felt like this:

“My arms and legs were heavy and responded more slowly than usual to my commands, making quick wheel adjustments and braking much more difficult,” he wrote in the blog entry. “Also, I couldn’t turn my head to scan the rear of the car. I had to use the car’s mirrors for that task.”

Sounds like a tough task to be behind the wheel.

Alarmingly, nearly 3 out of every 10 baby boomers participating in a Liberty Mutual survey said they “were avoiding the conversation” with their driving parents about giving up privileges behind the wheel.

“How do you tell someone it’s time to stop driving?” Dave Melton, Liberty Mutual’s managing director of global safety, asked in the blog. His answer: “You start early.”

Several publications from The Hartford, which is behind the Center for Mature Market Excellence, deal with that exact conversation. Those looking to jump-start dialogue with their elderly relatives can turn to “At the Crossroads,” “Your Road Ahead,” and “You and Your Car” to maximize their “driving wellness” far into old age.

Of course, driving wellness extends past the driver—the vehicle itself matters too.

Better crash safety ratings can play a role how popular a car is on the sales lot and how much it costs to insure but also (perhaps more importantly) has weight in how well an elderly driver fares when an accident occurs.

“[Crash safety ratings are] particularly important for older drivers because, if in a crash, they are more likely to be injured or killed,” Anne McCartt, senior vice president of research for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) told The Hartford. The IIHS regularly publishes widely used consumer ratings based on vehicle crash tests.

Children with aging parents who are apprehensive about the conversation about giving up the keys can turn to “comprehensive driving evaluations” from The Hartford, which said that “patient, caring conversations” work best.

Elderly drivers who want to improve themselves behind the wheel can turn to a number of safety programs that improve the skillsets needed to drive. The better news is that the courses yield discounts on auto insurance upon completion.

In addition, “5 Car Insurance Questions” from ABC News lets older drivers know what they should ask themselves when considering a new policy.

If all else fails, “you may need to enlist the support of a doctor or driver rehabilitation specialist for a formal driver assessment,” according to The Hartford.

Permission is granted to republish this article, free of charge, as long as embedded links remain intact and articles are not changed, edited, or reworded.

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