Nightly News   |  April 01, 2013

Helping older drivers stay safe behind the wheel

As people age, it becomes increasingly difficult to perform certain driving tasks such as changing lanes and backing up, which is why MIT’s AgeLab conducted a study of drivers 60 to 74 years old to see if exercise can help people drive their cars more safely as they age. NBC’s Stephanie Gosk reports.

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>>> we have said this before. it's one of those bad conversations. the moment many seniors have come to dread when family members approach to take away the car keys, ending a life of driving and usually under protest. the news is this. researchers at m.i.t. is are researching ways to buy insurance time earlier in life to stay behind the wheel later in life. our report tonight from nbc's stephanie gosk.

>> reporter: for a 72-year-old guy, stanton has good moves. the architect obsesses over two things -- his health, and his cars. what he didn't know until recently is if he keeps up the exercise he may be able to drive the cars longer and more safely.

>> we know flexibility, coordination, strength, those issues are related to yielding, changing lanes, backing up which become increasingly difficult as you age.

>> reporter: with funding help from the hartford insurance company m.i.t.'s age lab conducted a study of drivers 60 to 70 years old to test the theory.

>> look at the speedometer please.

>> reporter: they used games to focus on coordination and strength. then they were tested measuring reflex, pulse rate and eye movements.

>> the study taught me to stretch and to move. and to mv my body. clearly that's had an effect.

>> reporter: the pretzel makes backing up easier. a little shadow boxing helps getting in and out of the car. goalie skills improve lane changes and turns. the benefits aren't just for those 65 and older.

>> researchers say drivers in their 30s and 40s should start thinking about flexibility now because it can help with tricky moves like parallel parking and some of us could definitely use the help. the point is for drivers to take responsibility for the safety of their driving at an earlier age.

>> driving is not about getting from paint a to point b. it's about life. it's the glue that holds things together.

>> if it were taken from me i would be devastated.

>> reporter: more time in the gym could be the key to more time on the road. stephanie gosk, nbc news, cambridge, massachusetts.