Local News

Programs Keep Elderly Drivers Safe on the Highways

Posted January 10, 1999 6:00 a.m. EST

— For many senior citizens, a driver's license means freedom. But when is it time to turn over the keys?

According to theInstitute for Highway Safety, elderly people have higher rates of fatal crashes than any other group except younger drivers.

Thelatest highway fatality involving an elderly personhappened Sunday in Johnston County. A 78-year-old woman lost her life.

In North Carolina, you can drive at any age, as long as you pass the necessary tests. And that's where defensive driving courses come in.

"I've been driving more years than you kids are alive," said driver David Drucker.

And for the 79-year-old, his car is a symbol of his independence.

"The way I feel now at my age, if I give up this car, I may as well die, because I'll be locked in one place. I can't do anything," said Drucker.

At his age, he admits his vision is not what it use to be. Two eye surgeries to remove cataracts helped.

"I can make a right turn on a red light," Drucker said.

When we age, our diminished reflexes and the inability to think fast can be a detriment behind the wheel.

Tom Gregory is an instructor for the defensive driving course 55-Alive offered by theAmerican Association of Retired Persons.

He says a refresher course every three years could reduce elderly drivers' risks on the highway.

"There's more to life after you give up driving. But you need to make the decision, hopefully yourself, rather than have the undertaker or the traffic judge or whomever make it for you," said Gregory.

The statistics offered up byAAA in North Carolinasupport Gregory's concerns about the physically challenged elderly driver.

In 1997, highway fatalities involving the elderly accounted for one-fifth of the total number of fatalities, almost 2,000. An AAA spokesman says, that is a substantial number since elderly drivers avoid high risk driving conditions like rush hour.

As for Drucker, he is not ready to hang up his keys just yet.

There is some good news. Elderly drivers tend to be more cautious, and they draw from a wealth of experience in certain driving conditions.

If you are 55-years-old or older and you've been thinking about taking a defensive driving course, here is your chance.

There is one being offered at the Cary Senior Center, Wednesday and Thursday, and $8 will get you signed up.

The number to call for more information is(919) 469-4081.