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HEALTH MIND & BODY
BEHIND THE WHEEL: Seniors make adjustments to stay safe while driving
, Courier Staff Writer
Thursday, November 29, 2012 1:00 PM
ON THE ROAD: Frances Richey, above, and Sonny Harlow, below, enjoy the continued independence found behind the wheel of their own cars. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie)
Regular check-ups are critical to stay in the best possible driving shape:
Get eyes checked every year and make sure that corrective lenses are current. Keep the windshield, mirrors and headlights clean, and turn brightness up on the instrument panel on the dashboard.
Have hearing checked annually. If hearing aids are prescribed, make sure they are worn while driving.
Talk with a doctor about the effects that ailments or medications may have on driving ability.
Licensing procedures change a little as drivers begin looking to their retirement, yet more changes occur because of the driver themselves rather than because of state requirements.
Frances Richey, 80, said she hasn't noticed any changes when renewing her license over the years, but she has noticed personal driving changes she's made. She just uses more precautions when driving, she said, like waiting after rush hours to go out in town and not driving at night.
"I'm not as good a driver as I used to be, I admit it," Richey said.
But that doesn't mean she's a bad driver. Richey drives wherever she needs to go, but stays in the local area instead of driving to more metropolitan areas as she once did.
She also watches more closely for the other person while on the road and takes her time getting to where she needs to go.
Richey, along with many other drivers in the area, said other drivers have become much more aggressive on the roads with fewer people paying attention to where they're going and more attention to technology and cell phones.
Dolores Hellmann agreed that other drivers seem much more aggressive when she travels.
"Other drivers, I find, drive too fast," she said.
She has cut back on her out-of-town and interstate driving because of that. Yet she doesn't let other drivers scare her away from her volunteer work in the community.
"I do a lot of volunteering, so that takes me out on the road," Hellmann, 89, said.
When faced with an aggressive driver, she simply lets them drive by and takes her time to get where she's going safely.
Sonny Harlow, 74, also has noticed changes in the driving of other people, as well as his own.
Even though he might not be alert as he used to be, Harlow isn't afraid to drive or go wherever he needs to go.
"I don't drive as fast as I used to," Harlow said.
Still, he doesn't look forward to the day when or if he might have to wait for someone else to take him where he needs to go.
"I don't know what I'd have to do if I had to quit driving," he said.
Faye King, 94, chose to quit driving a few years ago because of health. Even though she'd still trust herself to drive most days, she chose to quit driving just to be on the safe side.
Unlike neighboring Illinois, where people must take road tests beginning at age 75, Indiana and Kentucky don't require drivers over a certain age to take a test for skills or ability. In fact, most states simply require people to renew a driver's license more often beginning at age 60 in some states, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
In Indiana, drivers over 75 must renew their license every three years in person at a Bureau of Motor Vehicles branch, while drivers 85 and older must renew driver's licenses every two years.
Drivers over the age of 75 must also pass a vision test when renewing their license just like all drivers in the state, Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles spokeswoman Julie Fletcher said.
"There's no other testing required (for age)," Fletcher said.
No additional regulations or early renewals exist for Kentucky drivers either, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
People aren't required to take a written test or take a driving test in Indiana unless certain conditions exist, like the expiration of a driver's license for an extended amount of time, drivers with a high amount of points against their driver's license or someone files an anonymous Driver Ability report alerting the state to possible problems with a driver's ability to safely handle a vehicle.
Making the decision that it is time to give up the keys for the last time isn't easy for many drivers or their families.
To help families ease that process, the Driver Ability report allows family members who might worry about someone else's ability to operate a vehicle safely to alert the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
"You can anonymously report someone who you don't think should be driving anymore," Fletcher said.
The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles evaluates these Driver Ability forms to determine if a medical packet should be sent to the driver. The medical packet must be completed by a physician and returned to the Bureau's Medical Advisory Board within 30 days.
Based on a doctor's recommendations, the bureau's Medical Review Board might require a driver to pass a driving skills test. Only then would a driver have to take someone else in the vehicle with them to verify their skills behind the wheel.
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