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Staying in the driver's seat

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By Rich Suwanski
The Messenger-Inquirer

Mark Moseley is 92 years old and still drives his 1998 Chevrolet Lumina, even though his family would rather he not get behind the wheel anymore.
"My children don't want me to drive," he said with a chuckle. "They say my reflexes aren't the same, like if someone stops quickly in front of me, they think I don't react quickly enough."
Mature drivers — those 55 years old and up, according to the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety — may not be a huge risk on the road, but as people age, their skills change and the KOHS recommends that they have their vision checked regularly.
Other age-related driving issues, according to the KOHS, include diminished strength, coordination and flexibility, and while there are no state regulations addressing those areas, officials recommend mature drivers regularly assess their driving abilities and make adjustments to continue safe motor vehicle use.
According to KOHS, there were 638 driving fatalities in 2013, and 227, or 35 percent, involved mature drivers. State records include any death in the accident, not just a driver's death. Age groups 16 through 34 were involved in 212 fatalities, or 33 percent.
In 2014 (through Aug. 4), there have been 112 driving fatalities involving mature drivers and 124 involving age groups 16 to 34.
Among the major causes of fatalities involve drug or alcohol use, driver inattention, using mobile devices while operating a vehicle and road conditions.
"As people age, their attention and reaction time change," said Karen Keown, Western Kentucky program coordinator for KOHS in Bowling Green. "Driving requires paying attention to multiple visual cues and being able to react quickly to situations that may arise without warning.
Keown said most older people have a "lifetime of valuable driving experience and are capable drivers," and decisions about a person's ability to drive should not be based on age alone.
"While most older people take appropriate steps when they detect a problem with their driving, it's not always obvious when a general health problem, vision problem or side effect of medication will lead to a driving impairment," she said. "That's when the observations of loved ones and health professionals are most vital."
According to KOHS, the following are symptoms of decreased attention and reaction time:
• Feeling overwhelmed by all the signs, signals, road markings, pedestrians and vehicles at intersections.
• Gaps in traffic are harder to judge, making it more difficult to turn left at intersections or to merge with traffic when turning right.
• Taking medication that makes one sleepy.
• Getting lost or becoming confused.
• Experiencing dizziness, seizures or loss of consciousness.
• Lack of confidence in handling the demands of high speed or heavy traffic.
• Being slow to see cars (or people) coming out of driveways and side streets, or to realize another car has slowed or stopped ahead.
In Kentucky, a person must be at least 16 years of age to apply for a permit/license. All new applicants must complete the required written, vision and skills tests administered by the Kentucky State Police before obtaining a permit/license. Driver's licenses are renewed every four years without further mandatory testing. There is no age limit on driver's license renewals.
"People ask me, ‘Do you still drive?' and I say, ‘Yeah, why not?' " Moseley said. "My back gives me some trouble, but if I'm sitting down, I can do anything."
Moseley has made accommodations to age, such as reducing his driving speed and not driving in rainy weather.
"I'm more cautious about my driving now," he said. "I make sure I stop at every stop sign and red light and look both ways before going on."
Moseley said he can drive at night but won't if it's raining. The reflection and distortion from lights of oncoming traffic on the windshield can be dangerous, he said.
"Now, if you have a wreck, they're going to say, ‘That guy's in his 90s,' and it's automatically your fault," he said.
Moseley said he's probably going to give up driving "pretty soon."
Ellen Hayden, 87, has been driving almost 70 years. Her first car was a 1939 Ford Coupe, not a vintage model, but when it was nearly new.
Hayden knows her driving skills aren't what they used to be and compensates by not driving after dark and only venturing out as far as Utica or Calhoun.
"I don't see quite as well as I used to, so I probably drive slower," she said. "I'm trying to be safe. I don't want to hurt myself or anyone else, either."
Hayden is particularly careful when backing out of driveways she's not familiar with, or pulling out onto streets.
"I don't hurry. I'm just trying to be cautious," she said. "When I get on Frederica and know I'm going to turn left, I get in that lane as soon as possible and don't change lanes."
Hayden said she never drives with her young grandchildren in the car, nor does she use her mobile phone for calls or texting while driving.
Keown said mature drivers she's spoken with say they want to keep driving for as long as possible, provided they're not threat to themselves or others.
Keown said some signs that a person's driving ability is diminished includes getting lost while driving familiar routes, crashes or near misses, receiving several moving violations, or even warnings by police about poor driving behavior, or a physician or health care provider advising one to restrict or stop driving.
Symptoms of declining vision include problems reading highway or street signs, having trouble seeing painted lane lines and other pavement markings, curbs, medians, pedestrians or other vehicles.
The KOHS recommends that mature drivers not wear sunglasses or tinted lenses at night because they reduce the amount of light that reaches a person's eyes, making driving more hazardous.
Nelda Barnett, a former member of the AARP national board of directors, said the AARP's Driver Safety Program is a classroom course that people 50 years old and up should take every three years starting at age 50. It's designed to "maintain a person's confidence behind the wheel" as they age. It teaches defensive driving techniques, new traffic laws and rules of the road, how to deal with aggressive drivers, how to safely use anti-lock brakes, airbags and seat belts, and techniques for handling left turns, right-of-way and blind spots, among other things.
After completing the course, which involves a nominal fee, a person becomes eligible for an auto insurance discount.
"It's a refresher course, and it makes me feel good when I get back out on the road," Barnett said.
For more information or to sign up for the course, call 1-888-227-7669.
For information about AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, go online at www.seniordrivers.org. Information about AARP 55 Alive Mature Driving is available online at www.aarp.org/55alive.
For more information or to sign up for the AARP's Driver Safety Program, call 1-888-227-7669.
For information about AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, go online at www.seniordrivers.org. Information about AARP 55 Alive Mature Driving is available online at www.aarp.org/55alive.
Editor’s note: Article reprinted with permission through the Kentucky Press News Service.