the Social Diary ~
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Is it Time
to Stop Driving?
the Social Diary Safety Educator Columnist Monica Zech
Column #5, January 21st, 2006
A question I'm often asked at my safety lectures is how can someone
tactfully ask a parent or grandparent to give up the car keys.
First, pick up a DMV California Driver Handbook. In the
back of that book you'll find the information on how to report
someone to the DMV you feel should not be driving due to age or
health reasons. Hopefully the following information will help
as well." - Monica Zech - Safety Educator
"Giving up driving for a senior citizen is a major
event, almost like when a person first gets a license," says
Scott Spier, M.D., chief of the Division of Psychiatry at Mercy
Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. It represents a loss of
mobility, which leads to a sense that independence, competence,
and well-being are compromised.
Knowing When to Hang Up the Keys
According to Barbara L. Spreitzer-Berent, gerontologist and president
of Quest Learning Resources in Detroit, Michigan, senior citizens
and their families can tell if an older person should start thinking
about giving up his or her driver's license by answering the following
" Has there been a pattern of close calls, violations
or minor collisions?
" Do you have trouble spotting pedestrians, signs or other
" Are you surprised by passing cars or do you brake harder
than normal for hazards, stop signs or stopped traffic?
" Have you gone through red lights or stop signs? Backed
into or over things or run into curbs?
" Are you having trouble coordinating hand and foot movements?
" Is the glare of oncoming headlights causing more discomfort?
" Do you have trouble turning your head, neck and shoulders
as you back up?
" Are you more nervous behind the wheel?
" Do you experience increased anger or frustration while
in the car?
" Are you quickly fatigued from driving?
" Do you lose your way, even in your own neighborhood?
" Do you get lost or make poor or slow decisions in traffic?
" Have you ever hit the accelerator instead of the brake?
" Are other drivers honking, tailgating or passing you aggressively?
" Do you take medication for a medical condition which may
impair your driving? These conditions often include multiple sclerosis,
Parkinson's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), seizure
or sleep disorders, or uncontrolled diabetes.
Too many "yes" answers could mean an older person may
not be able to handle the vehicle in an emergency situation. Experts
also say it's not a good idea to rely solely on the state testing
agency that tests drivers and issues driver's licenses. People
who have reflex problems can squeak by and still pass the test.
Testing Driving Ability
To get a better idea of an older person's driving skills, rehabilitation
centers and insurance companies offer tests that objectively rate
driving ability. Moreover, some senior centers, hospitals, retirement
communities and civic organizations offer driver improvement programs
for seniors who never really learned good motoring habits-but
are perfectly capable of doing so.
Many family members rely on the older driver's doctor to let him
or her know it might be time to think about giving up the car.
The physician considers muscle strength, eye sight, reflexes and
general overall health, along with questions about close calls
"When a relative notices the senior's car is chronically
bumped and dented, it may be a good time to gently inquire
about his or her driving skills," Dr. Spier says. But the
best way to approach the topic, according to Spreitzer-Berent,
is tactfully. Don't just blurt out: "You're 87 years old,
Dad. You're just too old to drive anymore!" Instead, try:
"Dad, I'm a little worried. I noticed a lot of new dents
and scratches on your car. What's been happening?" You may
even find that Dad is relieved to talk about it.
If early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease or dementia become evident,
Dr. Spier suggests it may be kinder to hide the car keys or even
disconnect the battery so the car can't start. Because these early
symptoms are accompanied by a fair degree of frustration, hiding
the keys might cause a tantrum or outburst, but it will pass quickly.
Around Without a Car
Buses, taxis, and vans operated by senior citizen centers, hospitals,
municipal transportation systems and retirement centers are very
helpful. Many seniors also count on family and friends for rides.
Dena S., a Boston woman who stopped driving about two years ago
has a standing "date" with her 25-year old granddaughter.
"She picks me up on Saturday mornings and I have a list of
errands that I need to do. We finish up around noon and I take
her to lunch. It gives us an opportunity to catch up on family
gossip, her life, and makes me feel young again."
For seniors on a fixed income, giving up the car is also cost
effective. "When you add up all the costs associated with
owning your own car, it is usually much more cost-effective to
take a taxi," says Dr. Spier.
It may not be necessary to give up driving altogether. If poor
vision becomes a problem, an older relative can plan to drive
only during the day. If a senior motorist tires easily or gets
disoriented in new places, he or she can concentrate on doing
errands that are closer to home.
Seniors Drive Just Fine
It is not true that all seniors should stop driving. "Numerous
national studies paint a more positive picture of mature drivers
than many expect," says Spreitzer-Berent. "Reports show
that mature motorists are not involved in a disproportionate number
of car crashes." And in fact, insurance rates reflect this
fact. In most states, drivers under age 25 pay higher premiums
than drivers over age 65. Stress and fatigue may cause some fender-benders
among older drivers, but it's also a problem with all driving
Getting more sleep will help you to be more alert behind the wheel,
and of course "wearing that seat belt" and obeying all
traffic laws made for our safety. - Monica Zech - Safety Educator
Association of Driver Educators for the Disabled (ADED)
Drivers.com - http://www.drivers.com
Drivers 55 plus: test your own performance, publication number
362. The American Automobile Association website. Available at:
DMV website - http://www.dmv.ca.gov/about/senior/senior_top.htm
Note: It may be advisable to set up a charge service with a reputable
taxi/town car service so the passenger does not have to fuss with
cash or credit cards. Also, a person should never let any stranger
know they live alone.
fire safety information visit www.nfpa.org
or for fire safety lecture contact me at (619) 441-1615.
Monica Zech is the Public Information
Officer and Safety Educator for the City of El Cajon and for El
Cajon Police and Fire Departments. For safety tips please
visit El Cajon
Fire.com In community work, Zech is the Vice
President on the board for the Trauma Research Education Foundation-TREF
and a board member with Communities Against Substance Abuse-CASA.
In March, Monica received the County's 2005 Individual Health
Champion Award for her safety lectures in the community and throughout
the county. Zech's
to New this Week.....Monica
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