Knowing the risks and taking precautions for senior drivers

Walter Jones had considered himself a safe driver since he was a teenager. In nearly 60 years, he had received only one parking ticket and a warning from a police officer for speeding. Since his 75th birthday, Walter’s daughter, June, began to notice signs that he may be having more difficulty while behind the wheel. She had accompanied him to a doctor’s appointment and noticed that he had difficulty turning to see when reversing and parking within the lines. June wasn’t sure how to approach the subject with her father, due to his independent and stubborn nature.

As our bodies age, changes may occur in our vision, hearing, reaction time, cognitive processing and other functions that affect our ability to navigate a car safely. Medications can affect driving as well. Other red flags for older drivers include: riding the brake; hitting curbs; driving too slow or too fast; scrapes on the car, mailbox or garage; getting lost in familiar places; stopping for no apparent reason; and trouble navigating turns, among others.

Stay safe behind the wheel

According to Nancy Lo, Coordinator of the Virginia GrandDriver Program, driving is a complex, fast- paced activity in which a typical driver makes over 20 decisions per mile, with less than half a second to react to avoid a collision. In 2015, senior citizens aged 61 and over accounted for 13 percent of all crashes (those aged 21-30 made up 25 percent) but older adults have more accidents per mile than any other age group.

But there’s a lot that can be done to stay safe behind the wheel before having to give up your keys altogether. Here are some tips that can help the older driver compensate: check your vision regularly; avoid driving in bad weather; plan your route ahead of time; limit left hand turns; avoid busy highways and rush hour traffic; and explore alternatives to driving (such as friends and neighbors willing to assist) before the need arises.

License renewal information

Virginia drivers age 75 or older are required to appear in person at DMV for their license renewal and to pass a vision screening; these renewals cannot be done on-line or by mail. DMV also reviews individuals who may have health conditions that impair their ability to drive safely, based on reporting by the individual themselves or by physicians, police officers, judges, family members, or concerned citizens. The information in the report is not released to the person under review. Each case is handled differently, but DMV’s goal is to allow individuals to drive for as long as they can safely operate a motor vehicle.

June found a helpful booklet, We Need To Talk, Family Conversations with Older Drivers, from The Hartford (see resources below). Anticipating reactions from the older person, deciding when is a good time to broach the subject of driving, and good conversation starters are all subjects included in the booklet. June was able to approach Walter with respect and sensitivity toward his feelings and, although Walter became emotional, he agreed to take a class aimed at older drivers.

Educational Resources

Department of Motor Vehicles: 804-367-6203 or www.dmv.virginia.gov
Offers medical review services and information on mature drivers is available online (thehartford.com).

Virginia GrandDriver: 800-552-3402 or www.GrandDriver.net
This program’s website has self-assessments on driving ability, a free program that teaches participants how to make their personal vehicle “fit” them for maximum safety on the road, as well as other important information.

Transportation Services

Care a Van Program: www.rrcsb.org or 540-825-3100, ext 3358

A Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services volunteer transportation program available to those 60 or older, or anyone who is disabled
and needs transportation to medical or legal appointments.

Circuit Rider: 540-341-3464 or www.vatransit.org

Covers Fauquier County and schedule repeats hourly. Services begin at 7:30 a.m. and the last run begins at 4:30 p.m..

Demand-Response Transportation Service: 540-825-2456 or 540-341-3464

A curb-to-curb transportation service open to the general public by reservation. Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Foothills Area Mobility System (FAMS): 540-829-5300 or www.fams.org

Transportation information referral source serving residents of Fauquier, Culpeper, Rappahannock, Madison and Orange Counties. Their One Call Transportation Center helps callers find rides to medical and other critical appointments through public, private and volunteer options and will accompany riders if needed for “travel training.”

VolTran: 540-422-8424 or www.voltran.org

This is a volunteer driver program that provides free rides to medical appointments and other critical errands for the elderly and disabled.

Virginia GrandDriver: 800-552-3402 or www.GrandDriver.net

This program’s website has self-assessments on driving ability, a free program that teaches participants how to make their personal vehicle “fit” them for maximum safety on the road, as well as other important information.

One Call Transportation Center: 540-829-5300

Helps callers find rides to medical and other critical appointments through public, private and volunteer options; accompanies riders if needed for “travel training.” Serves residents of Fauquier, Culpeper, Rappahannock, Madison and Orange Counties.

This article originally appeared in Warrenton Lifestyle Magazine | October 2017