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Let's go for a Ride

Posted Monday, January 24, 2011, at 9:26 AM

For many people driving means freedom! Teenagers just can't wait until they are 16 and can drive. Providing "Mom's Taxi Service" probably sometimes makes "Mom" wish she didn't have driving privileges, but in general folks who can drive are very glad that they can and would be very upset if that privilege was taken away.

Driving means being responsible for the safety of yourself, your passengers, other drivers and pedestrians. There is no magic number of years that, when reached, means you should stop driving. However, age does bring on physical changes that sometimes create new driving challenges. For example some loss of hearing makes it more difficult to hear another motorist coming up beside you or honking at you, it may make it more difficult to hear an emergency vehicle with its sirens on telling you to pull over to let them pass. Failing eyesight may make night driving more difficult, seeing the edge of the road, reading road signs, or seeing a pedestrian. Your flexibility and strength may diminish, that can impair your ability to move quickly from the gas pedal to the brake pedal or to turn your head to check beside or behind you as you drive.

Some questions to ask yourself to help you determine whether or not you are a safe driver:

Do I sometimes come too close to other vehicles?

Do other drivers honk at me a lot?

Do I have to brake harder than normal to stop?

Have passengers ever told me that my driving makes them nervous?

Do I often become angry while driving?

If you answered yes to any of these questions it may be time to make some changes in your driving habits.

Following are some steps you can take:

Drive only in daylight, avoid rush hour

Drive on roads where traffic and speed are most comfortable for you

Don't drive when you are ill, upset or stressed

Turn your head, use your mirrors and look over your shoulder to see what's beside and behind you

On long trips take frequent rest stops and consider bringing along someone to read maps and give directions

Even by taking all precautions, the fact is that each of us, if we live long enough, will outlive our ability to drive. We have children of older drivers calling our office periodically asking for assistance in taking the "keys away" from Mom or Dad. This is never easy; it seems to always lead to hurt feelings, anger and sometimes tears.

This is why I am writing a letter to my children that reads "when two or more of the following people (I'll have their names listed) have determined that it is unsafe for me to drive I promise to give up my driving privileges." Now, you will notice that I said "I" am writing this letter...my husband says "No way! I'm not leaving that decision up to any of those people!" (And I'm sure he wouldn't want my name on the list because I already grip about his driving!) To get him to stop driving when the time comes we may have to resort to the standard ways, either have him tested by a certified driving rehabilitation specialist or have his physician check him and make a recommendation. People generally take it better coming from someone other than their own family members.

When a family does have to make that difficult decision and take the keys against their loved ones wishes they need to remember that taking the keys is only part of the duty. If they take away the driving privileges they should be prepared to offer alternatives. Someone to take the elderly person shopping, barber or beauty shop, doctor and other necessary places but just meeting the necessities is not always enough. Try to put yourself into their shoes and think how lonely it may be for them not getting to go places they are used to going and seeing people they are used to seeing. Try to find friends who will take them out sometimes just for a drive, or to run errands with them. It makes a nice break for everyone.

For more information or to learn about a course for mature drives contact: The National Safety Council toll free at 1-800-621-7619 or AARP 55 Alive at 1-888-227-7669 also toll free.



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Age Spots
Ruth Dockins
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Ruth Dockins is the Public Information Director for the Southeast Missouri Area Agency on Aging and author of 'Age Spots,' a column/blog which is featured in several Southeast Missouri newspapers and is devoted to seniors and senior lifestyles.
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