Program Safe Guards Elderly Driver Ability

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As family members age, it can be difficult knowing whether they are still safe drivers but a new program helps older drivers either brush-up on their skills or hang-up their keys.

Ever since she was a teenager, Doris Clay has been cruising her neighborhood. But now she is 89-years-old and has Alzheimer's. Her family thinks she may need to stop driving, but they don't want to hurt her feelings.

"I think we all had some misgivings about her driving," one of Clay's family members said. "But she said, 'This is my last bit of independence, please don't take it away from me,'"

Some warning signs that an older driver may be slipping are:

  • close calls with other vehicles or stationary objects
  • lane drifting
  • trouble reading signs and staying focused
  • missing exits or turns
  • failing to use signals
  • new dents or scrapes

Out of all the drivers on the roads today, 20 million are over the age of 70. They have the second highest collision rate of any group. Teenagers top the list.

Some elderly drivers are getting a professional analysis of their skills from driving rehabilitation specialists like occupational therapists who are trained to deal exclusively with older drivers.

"I help them see their own strengths and weaknesses," said Driving Rehab Specialist Mary Beth Meyer. "My goal is to keep them on the road, if they're capable." 

Drivers are tested on depth perception, peripheral vision, color vision, sign recognition and reaction time. Bill Emrich, 82, did well but he needs to install wide angle mirror, a cushion so he sits up higher and just needs to remember those turn signals and to come to a complete stop

"I think it made a big difference," Emrich said. "I think I pay more attention to where I'm driving the car."

Sometimes, like with Clay, it is clear the driver should now be a passenger only.

"I think it helps the family tremendously," Meyer added. "Because they don't have to be the ones to say 'Doris, you can't drive anymore.' The test, being objective, is something she can't argue with."

Because of the program, the elderly drivers can't dispute what's safest for them and everyone else on the road.

*Originally published October 8, 2009

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Lorie Johnson

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