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When to stop driving a difficult decision for most seniors

Published: Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014 10:35 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Feb. 3, 2014 12:02 a.m. CDT
(Rob Winner – rwinner@shawmedia.com)
Dorothy Bierman, 86, makes a right turn from South Fourth Street onto Fairview Drive on Friday in DeKalb. Bierman has been driving for about 70 years.

Nikki Crooke of DeKalb plans to keep driving until they tell her she can't any more.

Crooke, 79, of DeKalb, said she would feel a terrible loss of independence without her driver's license.

"I worked as a visiting nurse for hospice up until just three years ago," Crooke said. "I put about 800 miles a month on my car."

Discussions about giving up one's driver's license – and with it a measure of independence – are difficult for senior citizens.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 5,401 people age 65 and older were killed and 185,000 were injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes. These older individuals made up 17 percent of all traffic fatalities and 8 percent of all people injured in traffic crashes that year.

In January, two crashes on Peace Road in Sycamore involving drivers in their 80s led to serious injuries; in one, an 85-year-old driver died as a result of injuries suffered in the crash.

Seniors, and those who care for them, need to have discussions about driving, advised Diana King, senior service director for Family Service Agency. But it's not always an easy one.

"Always be respectful and sensitive when having that conversation," King said. "Understand that it's difficult to lose that independence."

Illinois law requires that drivers older than 75 take a vision and driving test to renew their driver's licenses. Sometimes drivers also have to take the written test, depending on any incidents in which they may have been involved in the previous four years.

At age 82, drivers have to take a road test every two years. From age 87 on, a road test is required annually.

King said the senior centers in DeKalb and Sandwich offer Rules of the Road review courses to help seniors pass the test.

"Before approaching your loved one, it might help to enlist the help of a sibling or their doctor," King said. "Give specific examples of something they did that wasn't safe, that worried you for their safety."

Factors that contribute to safety issues for seniors include slower reaction time, depth perception changes, vision or hearing problems, decreased ability to focus, feelings of nervousness or anxiety and general medical issues.

In the DeKalb and Sycamore area, King said alternative transportation is available through TransVac.

Some people know when it's time to give up their keys, King said.

"If it wasn't for VAC, this old, blind lady couldn't go anywhere," said Betty Stone, 86, of DeKalb.

Stone said she has vision problems because of macular degeneration.

Shirley Woody, 76, of DeKalb, suffers the same condition, but said she's still able to drive during the day.

"Sunglasses help," Woody said. "I passed my last test."

Woody's husband, L.B. Woody, 82, still drives them both.

Advanced age and slower reflexes aren't the only reasons for giving up one's license. DeKalb resident Allan Martin, 62, said he has had a number of health issues, the latest being cataracts.

"It's just not safe for me to drive after dark in an unfamiliar area," Martin said. "I may have to take myself off the road."

King said some refuse to give up their keys, and that's when it gets difficult.

"It's really hard, but sometimes you have to go to extreme measures like taking away keys," King said. "You have to think of their safety."

Dorothy Bierman, 86, of DeKalb, still drives and has a supportive son who has taught driver's education to high school students.

"My son said if I ever failed my driving test," Bierman said, "he would take me out and help me pass it again."

Courses scheduled

Rules of the Road review courses are scheduled to assist seniors in passing their Illinois driver's licensing test.

• In DeKalb, on Tuesday, May 2, Aug. 1 and Oct. 3. Call Diana King at 815-758-4718 for more information.

• In Sandwich, on March 13, July 10 and Nov. 13. Call Susan Thanepohn at 815-786-9404.

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