Image: Senior man driving a car © Jose Luis Pelaez Inc., Blend Images, Getty Images

Brace yourself for the "silver tsunami" that's expected to wash over our highways in coming years.

The Automobile Association of America is warning that, as baby boomers grow older, a wave of drivers with diminishing skills likely will create road dangers across the country. Quoting figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, the AAA says this silver tsunami of motorists age 65 or older will increase by 75% over the next two decades.

On average, people live seven to 10 years beyond their safe driving ability, according to Jake Nelson, the director of AAA Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research. The AAA points out that these senior drivers often continue to get behind the wheel despite the risks.

"In less than 10 years, one in four licensed drivers will be age 65 and older, which means that millions of American families will be working through this challenge," Nelson says.

AAA and the American Occupational Therapy Association offer these suggestions to anyone who knows an older driver:

  • Conduct regular driving assessments. Every six months or so, ask the senior to take you for a drive so you can see his or her driving firsthand and note any changes.
  • Schedule regular medical check-ups and eye exams. A complete exam can reveal physical conditions that affect driving. Qualified medical personnel can check an older driver's decision-making skills, reaction time, muscle strength and joint flexibility.
  • Encourage regular exercise. A doctor can suggest a tailored workout routine to maintain overall health and well-being.
  • Think about and discuss the gradual adjustments. Sometimes a few simple steps -- limiting driving to certain times of day, avoiding night driving or adding an extra-wide rearview mirror -- can help prolong a senior's time behind the wheel.
  • Identify alternative modes of transportation. This should occur well before a senior's driving skills diminish.

For more advice, visit AAA's Senior Driving website.

Preparing for the possibility of more dangerous roads

With the predicted increase in less-skilled senior drivers over the next two decades, it may be prudent for motorists to evaluate their car insurance coverage, says Tully Lehman, a spokesman for the Insurance Information Network of California.

The IINC and the Insurance Information Institute recommend adequate liability coverage -- including bodily injury and property damage -- that will protect the driver and his or her assets if there's an accident. As a starting point, the III suggests at least $100,000 of bodily injury coverage per person and $300,000 per accident. Adding $50,000 in property damage coverage is also a smart move.

In addition, motorists should have adequate protection if they're hit by an uninsured or underinsured driver, says Jeanne M. Salvatore, the senior vice president and a consumer spokeswoman for the III.

Some states already require drivers to carry underinsured motorist coverage, but Salvatore advises discussing your policy with an agent just to make sure you have the coverage you need.

"Most people don't think about the uninsured motorist or underinsured motorist coverage portion of their policy until they're the victim of a hit-and-run accident, or are involved in a crash with a driver who either doesn't have auto insurance or has very minimal insurance," Salvatore says.

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She explains that UM coverage will reimburse you, a member of your family or a designated driver for bodily injuries caused by an uninsured motorist or a hit-and-run driver. UIM comes into play when an at-fault driver has insufficient insurance coverage to pay for your loss. UIM also provides coverage if you're hit by a car as a pedestrian.

Another good idea is to become a better defensive driver through more road awareness and classes designed to improve skills. As a bonus, many insurers offer rate discounts for passing such courses. Geico, for example, will trim as much as 10% from a premium, according to the company's website.

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