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Program helps elderly drivers

By Curt Autry - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Virginia has an age restriction on when you can get your driver's license, but not when it should be taken away. How old is too old to drive? Well now the Virginia Department of Aging can help you answer that question, with it's "Grand-Drivers" program.

A woman making a left hand turn over corrects, and barrels into a busy hair salon - amazingly, no one is hurt. At the McDonalds on Forest Hill & Huguenot, a woman loses control and crashes into the dining room, pinning one woman under a table. And a similar situation at "For Art's Sake" on Patterson near Parham, when a woman smashes through the front of the store. No injuries, but the gallery owner says, that was just dumb luck. 

"There would be 17 or 18 students inside here on a typical day - that would be Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. But like I said, Friday's our off day, so if it was gonna happen, it was a good time to happen," said Hugh McCreight, Owner of "For Art's Sake". 

All 3 of the drivers in these accidents were described as "elderly." 

70-something driver Ben Garrett knows his reaction time isn't what it used to be. Ben enjoys going fast. There was a time when he raced yachts and collected sports cars, but no more. He's content to drive his pick-up and plans to for many for years to come. That's why he's taking part in the "grand-driver's program," sponsored by the Department of Aging. 

They check to see that Ben's mirrors, seat, and steering wheel, are all adjusted properly - and that he has a working knowledge of all the instruments in his car. The grand-driver website even has several "do it yourself" tests, to help elderly drivers determine if they still have what it takes. 

"There are some helpful hints as to when someone needs to go see their physician, perhaps - to make sure they are still safe to drive," said Kathy Miller with the Department of Aging. 

"Your reaction time gets shorter - and that's what makes the big difference between seniors driving, and younger people driving - their reaction time," said Ben. 

With that in mind - Ben no longer drives during rush hour - instead, he leaves the house by 7 and tries to get home by 4:30. He plans to do whatever it takes to stay behind the wheel as long as he can. 

"Driving is independence. When you can't drive any longer you've lost your independence…and when you do that, you're whole world changes," Ben said. "So, losing my permit, and not being able to drive - for whatever reason, yes - it's a very traumatic thing, and something I hope doesn't happen to me." 

And although the goal of the grand-driver program is to help seniors stay on the road for as long as possible, the Department of Aging can also help when that inevitable day comes; when it's time to take away the keys. 

"If someone gets to the point that they're truly unsafe - people can make a report to the DMV, and we actually have some assistance through our grand-driver's grant for people to get comprehensive testing done," said Miller. 

And the grand-driver's program is having one of its events this weekend. You can take part in "Carfit," a quick check for seniors much like you saw in the story. It's this Saturday, May 15, from 10:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. at the Center for Excellence in Aging, 3901 Treyburn Drive, in Williamsburg.

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