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Georgia ranks high for crashes involving older adult drivers
Crash rates nearly double for older drivers
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Signs you may need to stop driving

  • Stopping at a green light, or when there isn’t a stop sign
  • Mistaking the gas pedal for the brake pedal
  • Finding traffic signs and signals confusing
  • Accidentally running stop signs or red lights
  • Unknowingly hitting or nearly hitting people, cars or other objects
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Moving from one lane to another without looking
  • Unexplained dents or broken mirrors or lights on the car

Safe driving tips for seniors

  • Consider not driving at night, in heavy traffic, in snow or rain and on unfamiliar roads
  • Review road rules, which can be found in a Georgia driver’s handbook
  • Consider taking a driving class from a driving instructor or rehabilitation specialist
  • Get regular checkups for hearing, vision and general health
  • Ask health care providers about the possible negative driving effects of prescriptions
  • Avoid potential distractions — cellphones, conversations with passengers and eating while driving

Source: American Geriatrics Society

Georgia has one of the country’s highest motor vehicle crash rates for older adults, typically ranked No. 5 or No. 6 in the U.S., officials with the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety said Wednesday.

And though the Georgia State Patrol has not determined what caused a deadly Tuesday crash on Interstate 985, the victim’s elderly status prompted concerns his age might have been a factor. The 80-year-old man drove the wrong way onto the interstate at Exit 24, resulting in a four-vehicle crash that led to his death and injured four people.

Don Linnartz, 81, is an AARP certified driving instructor and resident of the Lanier Village Estates retirement community.

He stressed that age is just a number.

“I don’t want people to think, ‘Oh, now that I’m 80, I have to stop driving,’” he said. “Age is not the criteria. Some people can drive up past 100 and drive safely.”

The fatal crash rate of 4.5 per 1,000 crashes for drivers ages 65 years and older was almost two times greater than for drivers ages 25 through 64 years, and more than twice as great than for drivers ages 16-24, according to GOHS.

But Linnartz mentioned factors such as texting that can make 20-somethings more dangerous on the roads.

“Driving is a full-time job,” he said.

According to GOHS, those older than 65 are more often seriously injured or killed in crashes than younger persons.

“That frailty is there, and therefore, the higher mortality,” said Dr. Swati Gaur, a fellowship-trained geriatrician and medical director of New Horizons Lanier Park and New Horizons Limestone long-term care centers.

“This is the hardest thing that we deal with as geriatricians,” Gaur said. “We understand there is an issue with driving with seniors.”

She said there are four main factors to look for as people get older that may affect their ability to drive: the loss of vision, hearing, memory and the ability to make decisions.

Assessing if one should drive correlates directly to how every day runs within the home, Gaur said.

“How functional are you at home? How much are you able to do at home? That is the No. 1 determinant of if you are able to drive,” she said.

“A person not able to do day-to-day living at home, inside your home, is definitely one of the biggest risk factors of having accidents when you go out.”

She mentioned narcotics, which many older residents take for various problems, as a factor as well.

“Sometimes — a lot of times actually — medication use, particularly prescription medications, can affect driving,” she added.

Gaur said she has known families who hid their parents’ or grandparents’ keys, or disabled the car mechanically as a last resort.

Having that discussion with a loved one can be difficult, but Linnartz had some suggestions on how to get started.

“‘We need to talk a little about your driving, Mom,” Linnartz said. “That phrase, as well as the time and manner, are key.

“You should do it at a calm time, sit down with that loved one, speak to them face to face. Calmly explain, you know, Dad or Mom, I noticed this when you were driving, and it concerned me,” he said.

It comes down to one important concept, Linnartz said.

“Dignity,” he said. “You want to help someone to give up driving without losing their dignity.”

And for stubborn, skeptical parents, Northeast Georgia Medical Center offers quantitative measures for driving ability.

The test costs $600 and is covered only by some health insurance policies, Linnartz said. Taking an AARP driving course like the ones Linnartz instructs can improve both skills and mindfulness of abilities and even lower car insurance rates, he said.

Gaur said that when a medical condition does ultimately demand taking away the keys, the situation can further negatively affect a person’s health.

“The elderly, they take the ability to drive as their independence. And there (is) no good public transportation in a lot of (places). And that can lead to depression,” she said. “It’s just a vicious cycle. But in some situations it just needs to be done.”

And asking for help to maintain social balance, Linnartz said, can be hard because of the stigma.

“We’re taught all our lives how to help people. Taught how to be the caregiver. But we aren’t taught how to receive help,” he said.

In those situations, Linnartz said, remind parents or grandparents of public transportation options, taxis and most important, offer them rides.

“In some cases, the situation can bring people closer,” he said.

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