No senior citizen wants to relinquish the keys to his or her car. But driving in Chicago's crowded environment can pose a real challenge to those faced with eyesight problems and other physical issues.
"Older drivers are faced with a dilemma," said Adelore "Slim" Petrie, an instructor with the AARP Driver Safety Program who teaches classes at the Arlington Heights Senior Center, 1801 W. Central Road.
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"They don't want to give up the freedom represented by the right to drive a car, but failing eyesight, hearing and physical flexibility, as well as medications for the other problems of old age, start to limit their response to the many demands of driving in today's complex driving environment."
That is why AARP offers a comprehensive eight-hour class, offered in two four-hour sessions, that covers the issues affecting older drivers and offers solution to most of those issues.
Among the subjects covered are: vision, hearing, physical fitness/flexibility, medications, seeing/scanning, three-second rule, intersection strategies, backing up and parking lot hazards.
A great deal of detail is offered in the various segments, Petrie said.
"For instance, in the vision segment, you will find cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration discussed by a doctor and demonstrated in the video. Participants are encouraged to visit their eye doctor at least once every two years to check on these conditions and get them treated to prevent further damage, which can limit driving ability," he said.
Medications and their effect on driving are also covered, as well as the dangers of distracted driving and making sure your car's steering wheel, seat and various restraints are properly adjusted for the individual driver.
"Many drivers are unaware of the potentially dangerous impact medications can have on their driving," said Julie Lee, vice president of AARP's Driver Safety Program, in a series of recent AARP articles. "Taking prescription or over-the-counter medications (including common medications used to treat illnesses like arthritis, asthma, diabetes, and high blood pressure) can cause impairments such as drowsiness, dizziness and blurred vision. Even among drugs generally considered safe for driving, adverse reactions may still occur, and interactions can occur between certain medications and other drugs or alcohol that could dangerously impair your driving performance."
She warned AARP members to be aware of the side effects of their medications, whether prescription or over-the-counter, and of their potential impact on driving.
"Talk with your doctor to discuss your medications and driving activity to see if any changes should to be made to your dosage or prescriptions. Ask your doctor if any medications, or combination of them, should limit or stop you from driving because of side effects," she wrote. "And at the pharmacy, request printed information about the side effects of any new medication. If you purchase your medications by mail, mail-order pharmacies have toll-free numbers you can call for questions about your medications."
In another AARP article, Lee also admonished seniors not to talk on their cellphones, look at maps or directions, eat, drink or smoke while driving.
"Think of driving as a job that requires your full attention. Refrain from any activity that takes your eyes, ears or mind off the road ahead," Lee said.
The driver must also make sure they have a clear line of sight (at least three inches) over your steering wheel and that there is at least ten inches of clearance between the center of their chest and the driver side air bag in the center of the steering wheel. They must also have easy access to the gas and brake pedals, properly adjusted head restraints, a properly fitting seat belt and well-positioned mirrors.
Making sure that a senior citizen properly fits his or her car can decrease the chance of fatalities in a serious crash, Lee emphasized in another AARP article.
In addition, 12 video segments are included throughout the driver safety course, covering everything from driving with trucks, to vehicle crash tests to anti-lock brakes, with visual examples that emphasize certain points with tests using real cars and crash dummies, Petrie said. He teaches the rest of the course and is available to answer participant questions.
The course is approved by the state of Illinois, and as such, participants 55 and older are eligible for a reduction in the liability portion of their car insurance for three years, Petrie said. The cost of the course is $14 ($12 for AARP members).
To find a class near you, log on to www.aarp.org/drive. Enter your ZIP code to find classes scheduled over the next two months, located within a 20-mile radius of your home.
Call (847) 253-5532 for information about classes at the Arlington Heights Senior Center.