Eyes on the Road
● By Wendy Sipple
Recent state laws focused on driver safety prohibit hand-held cell phones and texting in an effort to keep motorists alert and attentive while driving. But technology distractions aren’t the only concern.
As our bodies age, physical and mental adjustments dull reflexes and impair our ability to calculate maneuvers, or react appropriately in typical driving scenarios.
According to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), by the year 2030, an estimated one in five drivers in the United States will be age 65 or older. Fortunately, with the availability of refresher driving courses and greater awareness of the unique challenges they face, senior motorists can look forward to a long road of safe driving ahead.
Self-Assessments and Refresher Courses
Nancy Wilson, assistant director of Elder Options, Inc. – a Placerville-based agency that specializes in geriatric care and support for families throughout the country – explains, “Being able to drive and having that driver’s license is so much more than a way of transportation. It’s their key to independence and autonomy.”
To help older adults examine their driving skills, the DMV offers an online self-assessment (dmv.ca.gov/about/senior/senior_self_ess.html), and there’s a new, The Senior Guide for Safe Driving with valuable tips and warning signs that signal when to turn over the keys.
Often, simply fine-tuning skills helps seniors stay behind the wheel. Each year, the American Association of Retired People (AARP)’s Driver Safety Program teaches defensive driving techniques to 700,000 drivers age 50 and better throughout the United States. To date, more than nine million have graduated from the life-saving refresher course, most earning discounted insurance rates to go with their newly found confidence. The DMV maintains a list of additional mature driver programs, many here in our community.
Talking Through the Options
“A lot of seniors self-regulate themselves when they get a little fearful of driving,” says Wilson. “They’ll stick to familiar roads, or drive only in the daytime, to the store and back.” But, Wilson acknowledges, others insist on continuing to drive when they really shouldn’t. “It’s just so dangerous,” she says. “Eventually something’s going to happen. We hear countless horror stories, many involving serious injuries.”
When discussing driving concerns with a loved one, Wilson suggests holding a family meeting, following these tips:
- Approach the issue before it’s absolutely necessary.
- Use a story in the news to start the dialogue.
- Have the discussion over a period of several conversations, not one big “talk.”
- Focus on the safety of your loved one as well as that of others.
- Discuss benefits, such as monetary savings (car payments, insurance, maintenance, gas, etc.).
- Have a support system and alternative transportation plan already in place.
A decision to limit or stop driving shouldn’t signal a sudden lack of mobility. One local transportation option is Seniors First’s Door to Door Rides, a volunteer-based service that takes Placer County residents to doctors’ appointments or on other errands.
Manager Nancy Cremarosa says the program relies heavily on its 80-90 driving volunteers who use their personal vehicles to provide up to 50 rides a week for local seniors. “We have volunteers who’ve been with us for 15 years,” she says, noting the organization is always looking for additional recruits. “Volunteers are more than just drivers – they listen to the customers and provide companionship. It’s a social outing for our seniors, not just a ride.”
Various other programs in Placer County, El Dorado County and Folsom offer similar curb-to-curb services that help even non-driving seniors stay on the road of independence.
Senior Support and Transportation Options
Elder Options, Inc.:
El Dorado Dial-A-Ride:
Placer County Dial-A-Ride: