Left-hand turns are just a part of life for most drivers, but for older adults, having difficulty making them could be a sign that it’s time to turn over the keys.
And turning, along with other clues, could give people the information they need to confront a parent or friend to let them know they should no longer be driving.
For many families, talking with a parent about giving up driving can be a difficult and emotional conversation, but Don Linnartz hopes his free seminar July 26 at Lakeshore Mall will help people who aren’t sure how to bring it up.
"We hear a lot of stories of how they helped someone else quit driving," Linnartz said of people who have taken the seminar.
He said it can be a difficult conversation because older people may see their car as their independence.
"You lose a lot of freedom," Linnartz said.
Mardi Morris, who attended a previous seminar, went because she was concerned about the driving safety of a few of her older friends and family members. She said it was helpful because she realized how important it is to communicate with older drivers.
"I would have avoided it," Morris said of how she would have handled the situation before she took the class. "It’s something people don’t want to do."
As people age, physical and cognitive limitations can cause difficulty on the road. Diminished vision and slower reflexes make people less able see hazards and avoid accidents, and dementia from diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s can leave people confused or lost even in familiar areas, according to the booklet participants receive at the seminar titled "We need to talk... Family conversations with older drivers."
Besides identifying warning signs of when a person needs to stop driving, the book outlines suggestions for when, where and how to talk to older drivers.
Because people can be defensive about their ability to drive, the seminar outlines several ways to broach the subject in more comfortable, nonthreatening ways.
Morris said the seminar taught her to "be aware of how sensitive you need to be."
It is important to talk with older drivers because it can be hard to realize your own shortcomings, Morris said.
Often fender benders or near accidents on the road are a good opportunity to bring up the topic.
"I think we can make excuses for ourselves and try to just hope that that was a freak incident," Morris said.
Morris’ mother is no longer driving, and it took a traffic accident to convince her that it was time to stop.
"She made a left-hand turn and got hit. And it was a $100,000 job before it was over and she hung up her keys," she said.
Like teenagers, older drivers are much more expensive to insure, said David Colmans, the executive director of Georgia Insurance Information Service.
And the number of licensed drivers decreases significantly with age, according to data from the Georgia Department of Driver Services. In 2005 in Hall County, there were 837 licensed drivers age 70. That number dropped to 478 at age 80, and there were a mere 69 licensed drivers age 90.
Colmans said older drivers may not take into account that they may be putting not just themselves but others at risk.
"You’re faced with the potential of injury and liability," Colmans said. "Safety is paramount. It’s probably one of the most difficult conversations to have with someone."
Colmans said he believes it is very common for people to talk to an aging parent about giving up driving, and he believes it will continue to be something people will encounter.
"That issue is probably going to become more of a concern than less because so many more people in the population are aging now," Colmans said.
Linnartz said he knows from personal experience that in some cases, more than a long talk is needed to get someone who shouldn’t be driving anymore away from the wheel.
"I have an older brother who absolutely would not give up driving," he said.
Linnartz said when his nephew took the keys from his father’s car, the older man got new keys made. When the son took dad’s license, he continued to drive. It was not until Linnartz’s nephew actually sold the car that Linnartz’s brother finally stopped driving.
Other adults may be willing to stop driving without having to talk about it.
Linnartz said his daughter-in-law borrowed her mother’s car for an extended period of time, and because she accepted she should not drive anymore, she did not ask to have it back.
Some older people may also limit driving on their own because they recognize their weaknesses.
"A lot of older people voluntarily quit driving at night," Morris said. She said others may also take precautions like avoiding taking left turns when possible and not driving long distances.